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Position analysis: Sox vs. Yanks
10/12/2004 1:01 AM ET
At this point, catcher's main concern is caring for pitchers, specialties of both Jason Varitek and Jorge Posada. Varitek also came up with the huge ALDS Game 2 homer off Bartolo Colon -- the switch-hitter's lone hit in 10 at-bats lefty. Posada, without an RBI since September, is a ticking threat.

One of the newest Yankees, John Olerud is silk with the glove, and his swing is nearly as smooth. He's also one of their most experienced postseason players, in his seventh playoff with four different teams. Kevin Millar can crack a joke or a line drive with the best of 'em.

Miguel Cairo quietly became the Yanks' most pleasant surprise. Among regulars, only Hideki Matsui hit higher than his .292. Mark Bellhorn is the Moneyball genie; he doesn't even have to hit the ball. In 16 ALDS plate appearances, he put the ball in play seven times (5 walks, 4 whiffs, 1 hit) but had an on-base percentage of .375.

In his first postseason with the Yanks, Alex Rodriguez has already responded to the stage he wanted the way Pavlov's dog responded to that bell. During the ALDS, the five-tool player hit .421 (8-for-19) with one homer and three RBIs. Having the 2003 batting champ hitting in the No. 9 hole says a lot about Boston depth, but Bill Mueller lacks A-Rod's one-man-show talents.

When Derek Jeter sniffs the playoffs, his eyes bug out the way Wimpy's does when he sniffs a hamburger. Captain October is the one who doesn't let the Yanks feel they are out of any game. Orlando Cabrera's defense may mean even more to his team, and he will rise to this positional challenge.

Matsui vs. Manny Ramirez is Mr. Steady vs. Mr. Explosive. Just as a higher level of comfort improved his regular-season play, Matsui has raised his postseason level. And he killed the Sox (batting .361 with four homers and 18 RBIs). But Ramirez leads MLB with seven postseason RBIs, and is always a threat to go off. And as he showed last month in Yankee Stadium, can take away homers on defense as well as hit them.

Kenny Lofton is a bigger defensive deterrent, but Bernie Williams' hot finish (.333-3-6 over the last two weeks) has spilled into the postseason and he is again feeling it. Johnny Damon is valuable, whether setting the tone for the lineup or the Boston crazies. Also, he's the only outfielder whose glove can decide a game.

Gary Sheffield already has more hits this postseason (4-for-18) than in the last two with the Braves combined (3-for-30), but his ceiling obviously is much higher. Trot Nixon is still trying to recapture his total game after an injury-filled season, and is a dangerous bottom-of-the-order guy. Both play balls into the corner well.

Ruben Sierra's big ALDS Game 4 bomb was so characteristic -- the switch-hitter's only hit of the series in eight at-bats from the left side, but a game-saver. And David Ortiz's extra-inning smash of course won for Boston. It underscored the ability of both to break up a game. Lofton and Tony Clark are also in the mix for New York.

Paul Quantrill -- appearing in the first postseason of a 13-year career -- showed his familiar touch in the ALDS after a ragged finish, and he could be key getting the game to Tom Gordon and Mariano Rivera. If batters' looks at them are limited, Boston's Alan Embree, Mike Myers, Mike Timlin and Keith Foulke are effective.

Tony Clark, Enrique Wilson, Bubba Crosby, John Flaherty mostly only answer emergencies for the Yankees. Conversely, the Sox have a veritable second platoon (Gabe Kapler and Pokey Reese for speed and defense, Doug Mientkiewicz for "D") sitting on the pine. If you need a hit in a pinch, you gotta love that New York experience.

When you take an honest look at the New York roster -- particularly the mound part -- it doesn't add up to 104 wins-and-counting. The difference is Joe Torre, with the heavy input of pitching coach Mel Stottlemyre. Terry Francona had some of his brightest moments in the ALDS, but he's going up against The Master.

You kidding? Flat-top vs. Flat-out grungy. And mostly, Karma and Mystique vs. Curse and Misfortune. The Yankees feel they own the Red Sox, who are confident this is the October they shed the historical burden. But until they actually do, Red Sox Nation will remain a country of gloomy skeptics.

This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.