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04/03/10 9:25 PM ET

Red Sox eager to prove salt vs. Yanks

With new pieces, Boston turns to new chapter of rivalry

BOSTON -- For the first time in five years, the Red Sox will open the season amid the spectacle of the game's biggest rivalry. But unlike 2005, when they were the ones taking the field as defending World Series champions, the Sox will spend 2010 trying to take down the Yankees.

From 1919-2003, the Yankees always seemed to have the upper hand in the rivalry. After all, the championship count was Bronx Bombers 26, Red Sox 0 during those eight-plus decades.

However, things changed for a while, starting with Boston's historic comeback against the Yankees from an 0-3 deficit in the 2004 American League Championship Series. The Sox went on to win not only that World Series, but another one in '07.

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But by winning their first World Series since 2000 last October, the Yankees are at the summit, and the Red Sox will spend the spring, summer and perhaps autumn trying to knock them down a peg.

It starts Sunday at 8:05 p.m. ET when the rivals square off in Major League Baseball's first game of 2010, under the lights of Fenway Park. That is when the Red Sox can officially start erasing the sour taste of being swept out of the American League Division Series by the Angels last October, an indignity made only worse when they had to see the Yankees win it all.

"I think everyone is excited," said Red Sox second baseman Dustin Pedroia. "They're the world champs. We have the first game of the season at our place against them. It's going to be fun."

The Red Sox had their fun against the Yankees early last year, winning the first eight head-to-head encounters for the first time since 1912. But New York turned the tables, reeling off nine of the last 10, and winning 103 games on the season, eight more than Boston.

"Those guys, they set the bar pretty high last year and played great baseball," Pedroia said. "We're trying to get to that point."

They've added several new pieces in an effort to gain ground. John Lackey is another horse in the rotation to go along with Opening Night starter Josh Beckett and lefty Jon Lester. Marco Scutaro gives Boston another grinder in all sides of the game. Adrian Beltre is a defensive star, and could emerge into a key signing if he can regain his offensive stroke. Center fielder Mike Cameron brings a veteran presence, power and solid defense.

Sure, the Red Sox hope they are better. But they know they still have to prove it.

"They are the reigning champs," Cameron said. "You have to look at the reigning champs in a different manner because they are trying to hold on to the trophy and we get a chance to go in and fight for it."

It will all be magnified on Sunday, being that it is the only regular-season game in the Majors. But the fight to surpass the Yankees is one that will go on for months.

Fittingly, the sides also close the season together with a three-game series at Fenway. Perhaps that showdown will determine the AL East title.

"We're both extremely talented," Pedroia said. "It's just a matter of whoever executes more throughout the course of the season that's going to win more games. Whoever stays healthy is another huge thing. Those two things are the biggest thing about winning the American League East."

While the Red Sox lost Jason Bay, the Yankees subtracted Johnny Damon and Hideki Matsui, but added Curtis Granderson and Nick Johnson. Of course, New York still has the star power of Derek Jeter, Alex Rodriguez, Opening Night starter CC Sabathia and ageless closer Mariano Rivera. Aside from the newcomers, the Red Sox have a stable of key veterans returning for another season, including Pedroia, Kevin Youkilis, Victor Martinez, David Ortiz and their own star closer -- Jonathan Papelbon.

Red Sox manager Terry Francona, after guiding his team through a relatively healthy Spring Training, is eager to see how his team evolves.

"I would say just the normal anxiety," Francona said. "I just think that's human nature. I think our goal or aim is just to get into the grind of the season. Get everybody's firsts out of the way. Get into the grind of the season where you can see how good you are."

It seems that the Red Sox always need to go through the Yankees first before determining just how good they are.

"I think any team can be the team to beat," said Red Sox right fielder J.D. Drew. "It's Game 1. Everyone starts the season anew and you're trying to shoot for a championship, so that's what we're doing."

"I feel confident," said Red Sox left fielder Jacoby Ellsbury. "I feel like we're ready to go and we're putting a good ballclub out on that field. It always comes down for any team to pitching and defense. And I think people are going to be pleasantly surprised how we swing the bats."

Ian Browne is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.