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DOWN THE LINE

Most of a Lifetime in ...the Fens

From 1 p.m. Friday to 4 p.m. Monday, a span of 75 hours at Fenway Park, the Yankees and Red Sox will play five baseball games. It only seems as though they play five games every weekend, baseball wrapped around the usual story lines of A-Rod saving small children from being mowed down on Yawkey Way and A-Rod ordering the Catcher’s Mitt Special for lunch.

The Red Sox have an awful lot to lose here, considering Theo Epstein stood pat at the trading deadline while Brian Cashman upgraded in the middle of his lineup and at the end of his starting rotation. Epstein made a call to the Dodgers about J.D. Drew, then passed because of potential no-trade-clause complications.

Conversely, the Yankees in this series could go a long way toward deciding the AL East. They leave Boston for six games in the West, and the Red Sox head west for nine games.

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All this, just in time for Yankees fans to remember they sorta like A-Rod again.

The probables: Friday (2) -- Chien-Ming Wang and Sidney Ponson vs. Jason Johnson and Jon Lester; Saturday -- Randy Johnson vs. Josh Beckett; Sunday -- Mike Mussina vs. Curt Schilling; Monday -- Cory Lidle vs. David Wells.

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Catcher in the Eye

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Quite a week for former Dodgers darling Paul Lo Duca, who stood in the storm of a back-page war as his life was picked apart over his pending divorce, reported choice in mistresses and betting habits, in that order. MLB officials say they have found Lo Duca’s gambling practices to be related to horse racing and aboveboard, despite reports of lurking bookies and unpaid losses.

The league has been sufficiently curious to check into Lo Duca a couple of times in recent years, but only after Lo Duca had been traded to Florida and, no, the Dodgers did not move Lo Duca because they feared he was a character risk.

Meantime, Lo Duca has batted .380 since the All-Star break and .419 in August as the Mets dust the Braves and Phillies in the East.

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Bats and Pieces

Brad Penny wouldn’t give up No. 31, so Greg Maddux is wearing No. 36. Somehow, (right) Armageddon is averted. We see that numbers are important for some players. We just don’t understand why. Comfortable in, all right. Familiar with, OK. Trimming, get it. Important? Move along.... Good for Dave Wallace, back on Boston’s bench after a lengthy hip rehabilitation. Bad for Wallace, he returned just in time to see the Red Sox go 1-5 in Tampa Bay and Kansas City.... Turns out, the Braves weren’t alive at all but mustering one last midseason energy burst before ending their division title run at 14 years. They’ve lost 13 times in 20 games since wrapping seven consecutive wins around the All-Star break, losing Chipper Jones again and giving up an average of almost seven runs in their defeats. Well, at least they got to hang out with Bob Wickman and Danys Baez for a couple of months.... Old friend Odalis Perez didn’t get a decision in his first three starts for the Royals and was still trundling along at about a run-an-inning pace in the first two, but reports said his fastball was clocked at 93.... In the course of the same conversation with reporters in Minnesota, a Twins doctor said he was “very optimistic” and “not confident” that Francisco Liriano would pitch again this season.

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One More Thing From ... Mike Piazza

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After three bittersweet days in New York, where the Padres lost three times, but he hit two home runs and was serenaded by Shea Stadium fans with touching ovations and a curtain call, in the New York Post: “You know, it was the first time that I got a standing ovation for a strikeout, and then booed for a home run. I was like, ‘This is a “Twilight Zone” episode out here.’ ”

-- Tim Brown


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