NEW YORK - Wearing a Boston Red Sox hat, jacket and pullover, Dana Paquette strutted noisily into enemy territory last night, joking and high-fiving with his five buddies while huffing and puffing up the Yankee Stadium ramps.
As Paquette and crew paraded through Section 16 to their upper-tier seats, a guy in a Yankees hooded sweat shirt barked: "They better not give us any [stuff]."
Paquette put his hand on the Yankees fan's shoulder and said reassuringly, "We're not gonna give ya any [stuff]."
After Paquette walked by, the guy countered: "I can't believe he touched me."
Baseball officially returned from its winter's slumber last night, bringing with it the delicious animosity between the sporting world's greatest rivals.
At least for an evening, the New York Yankees did their best to turn the calendar on 2004 and their four-game collapse in the American League Championship Series.
Wells, a former Yankee making his Red Sox debut, allowed four runs on 10 hits, hit two batters and balked in a run in 4 1/3 innings. His mound counterpart, Randy Johnson, surrendered just one run and five hits and struck out six in six innings for his first Yankees win.
It was New York's first step in erasing the nightmare of 2004.
Before the game, players in both clubhouses stressed that Boston's stunning ALCS comeback and subsequent sweep of the St. Louis Cardinals to capture its first title since 1918 no longer counts.
"Last year is last year, it is over," said Boston closer Keith Foulke. "It was over about Feb. 15. It's fun to come in and talk about it, but it is over now."
"We are looking in front of us, we don't look behind," said Yankees catcher Jorge Posada. "Obviously, they beat us last year, but it's not in the back of our heads."
Still, it was Opening Night with a twist. Here were the Yankees, the league's kings, beginning their crusade to wrest away the crown from the sport's court jesters.
"They got what we want, and that's the championship ring," Yankees right fielder Gary Sheffield said. "Opening Day is always electric. But with Boston in town it adds a little fire to it because everybody around the world is always focusing on the two of us."
There also were your normal sights and sounds of a season anew.
Andy Phillips, a Yankees rookie in his first major league opener, dropped the typical "I'm just happy to be here" on a group of reporters. Donald Trump and Billy Crystal were at the stadium. Fighter jets flew overhead after the national anthem.
Meanwhile, fans jawed as if it were midseason.
When Paquette, who organized a 55-person bus trip from Boston, sat in his seat, Yankees fan Joe Maino quipped: "You better not have season tickets there."
Paquette and his buddies laughed, soaking everything in with an air of superiority usually reserved for New Yorkers.
It didn't seem to matter that the Red Sox endured a sloppy, humiliating loss on national TV. Because this was Opening Night, baseball was back and the Red Sox are defending champions.
"We've been waiting 86 years for this," Paquette said. "We are willing to take a punch in the face or have a peanut thrown at us to be here.
"It's been 86 years, man."