Yankees players they're not so sure that Red Sox fans...

Yankees players they're not so sure that Red Sox fans have mellowed since winning two World Series in the past six years. (Apr. 4, 2010) Credit: AP

BOSTON - They used to stretch their bodies almost to the breaking point, just to curse him.

They'd lurk overhead, crawling along the bullpen railing to get a closer look at his face and to ensure that their spiteful words were within earshot.

They entered his world unannounced and unapologetic, perching themselves less than a foot away from him as he tossed warm-up pitches in the bullpen.

This is what Andy Pettitte remembers about the old days at Fenway.

The days when the Yankees had all the luck and the Red Sox still were cursed. The days when the Boston hatred was palpable from the stands and ballpark security was always tight.

"Anybody can see that you can literally hang over our bullpen while I'm warming up," said Pettitte, who will start Wednesday night at Fenway Park. "My first couple of years, that's how it was. They were literally crawling on the bullpen area down there. The fans were just screaming and hollering right in our ears."

Those were the days when the Yankees-Red Sox rivalry turned white-hot after being merely red-hot. The days when "Evil Empire" shirts and posters littered Fenway and a smattering of "1918!" chants could momentarily even the score.

To some fans, it may seem as if Boston's 2004 and 2007 world championships have muted the long rivalry. But that's not the case, the players said.

"You guys are standing up there in the booth; you don't see those bleachers and stuff. They haven't changed," Yankees catcher Jorge Posada said with a smile, referring to Red Sox fans. "You're not in the right place. You need to go to the bleachers."

What has changed, Red Sox third baseman Mike Lowell said, is the collective attitude of the Fenway faithful.

"I think it changed from, 'Oh, we're definitely going to lose,' and now it's, 'We can win. And why don't we do it again?' " he said. "The whole mind-set from the media to the fans changed. I think [the championships] moved it from a negative standpoint to a very positive one.

"Our fans still hate the Yankees, don't get me wrong," he clarified a moment later. "And I don't think Yankees fans like us anymore. That's part of the rivalry. But I think the negativity toward not winning has definitely changed."

There's just something about the Yankees coming to town that captivates the city of Boston - something almost indescribable but very much tangible.

"People get excited about this," Red Sox DH David Ortiz said, referring to the series with the Yankees. "The whole city changes. You see the movement; people are moving faster, everything is moving around quickly."

And the hatred still remains.

"It's never going to change," he said with a hearty laugh.

Red Sox Nation most likely will never learn to love Alex Rodriguez or Mark Teixeira. But perhaps winning two world championships in four years has tempered their once-irritable, bitter dispositions.

"It was a little more vicious before they won," Yankees captain Derek Jeter said. "Before, they kept losing and losing and losing, and finally when they won, it took a little bit of the edge off, I think.

"Don't get me wrong, they're still passionate. They care deeply about the team."

Seeing the Yankees win a 27th world championship last season likely was uncomfortable for most diehard Red Sox fans. But no longer is robust security an essential at Fenway - especially near the bullpen, Pettitte said.

"The hatred's still there because we're the enemy," he said. "You go anywhere and everyone wants their team to be great. I think for the most part, organizations have tried to model themselves after us after we had won all those championships in the late '90s. So I think the Yankees have always set the bar.

"So if you love us, you love us and if you hate us, you'll probably always hate us. That's the good thing about baseball. The way [Red Sox] parents raise their kids to hate the Yankees - it makes it interesting for us, too."

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