Boston — These Boston Red Sox aren't worried about what happened in New York last year because they think they're better than the team that lost to the Yankees in the 2003 AL championship series.
"We're playing good ball now. I think we're the best team," outfielder Johnny Damon said Sunday before the Red Sox headed for New York. "Hopefully, the best team wins. But we know they're no slouches."
The Red Sox haven't won the World Series since 1918, and the Yankees are the biggest reason why. While bringing a record 26 titles to the Bronx, the Yankees have handed Boston some of its heartbreaking defeats, making Bucky Dent and Aaron Boone much-cursed names in New England.
But this year's Red Sox think they can change all that by ignoring it.
"Sometimes I'm not real sure they know how many outs there are in the inning," manager Terry Francona said. "So I don't think that other stuff is going to be a factor."
What will be a factor are pitchers Curt Schilling and Keith Foulke, who came to the Red Sox in the offseason after they lost to the Yankees on Boone's 11th-inning homer in Game 7 off Tim Wakefield. Francona replaced Grady Little, who was run out of town for failing to lift tiring ace Pedro Martinez in the final game, allowing the Yankees to tie the score.
With Orlando Cabrera and Doug Mientkiewicz, the Red Sox are also playing better defense than they were a year ago -- or even at the beginning of this season, when they led the league in unearned runs. Disgruntled shortstop Nomar Garciaparra is gone, and the clubhouse is happier because of it -- a bunch of self-proclaimed "idiots" who don't see any reason why they can't knock off the Yankees.
"Idiots worldwide are thrilled. They've never had such great p.r.," general manager Theo Epstein said. "The personality of this team is a big plus. We've never had to look at the other dugout and see a team that's looser than us."
The Red Sox won 98 games during the regular season, three more than last year, but finished second to New York in the AL East for the seventh consecutive year. But this year they beat New York 11 times in 19 games -- their first victory in the season series since 1999.
"It's hard to imagine two more evenly matched teams," owner John Henry said Sunday.
Asked if he thought the team's history put it at a disadvantage, he told reporters, "You've been in the clubhouse. Do they appear to be psyched out?
"I think they're ready," he said. "Psychologically, emotionally, physically."