DENVER – There’s nothing warm and fuzzy about utter dominance, nothing heartwarming about a juggernaut.

Put pinstripes on these Boston Red Sox, move them to the Bronx, and America would have the same love/hate relationship with them as they do with George Steinbrenner’s multimillionaire minions.

Three years have passed since the nation shed a collective tear for the uplifting story about a team that battled back against all odds, wiped out a curse, and rewarded the suffering of generations. Only the most hardened couldn’t find something special in the lovable lugs who brought a World Series title back to their equally lovable ballpark.

The ballpark is still terminally cute. Always will be as long as the Green Monster remains standing and people offer up their first newborn son for tickets.

But these aren’t your grandfather’s Red Sox.

Meet the new Yankees, much like the old Yankees.

They once sold Babe Ruth to pay expenses. Now they hire gunslingers from far away countries to shoot down the guys in the hated pinstripes.

On Sunday night in this mile-high city, they did something only the Yankees thought they had the birthright to do. And, after not only winning but sweeping their second World Series title in four years they seem perched on the verge of a dynasty the likes of which Yaz and the Splendid Splinter could only dream.

No wonder even the Yankees seem to be feeling a tad jealous.

“They talk about Red Sox Nation. We talk about Yankee universe,” George Steinbrenner’s son, Hank, told The New York Times the other day. “As bad as they want it, they’ll never be the Yankees with their brand.”

Maybe not, but being the Red Sox isn’t such a bad thing these days.

It wasn’t that long ago the team’s loyal fans were begging, pleading, for their Red Sox to win before their beloved (fill in the blank) grandfather, uncle, father, or grandmother died without seeing them win a championship.

Now they march with the swagger of card carrying members of the Red Sox Nation, a fan base so die-hard thousands think nothing of traveling the country to make themselves a very vocal presence in opponents’ stadiums.

One World Series win suddenly isn’t enough. Expectations have been created, and expectations are always a tough act to follow.

Can the inevitable backlash be far behind?

No doubt, because there’s nothing we hate more than arrogant winners who think they can buy their way to success much the way Steinbrenner’s millions helped the Yankees win like no other team except the Yankees who came before them.

An AP-AOL Sports poll last year confirmed the Yankees were the team America both loves to love and loves to hate. The Yankees had the highest following of any team at 14 percent of baseball fans, but 40 percent said New York was also the team they rooted most against.

Meanwhile, the Red Sox had the support of 9 percent of fans, but their negatives were only 7 percent.

That figures to change after a second World Series win because this is a team that not only plays like the Yankees of their prime, but spends like them. Their payroll is second only to the Yankees, and they thought nothing of paying $51 million just for the rights to a pitcher who might be able to give them six good innings in Game 3 of the World Series as Daisuke Matsuzaka did Saturday night.

To put things in perspective, that was just a couple million dollars short of the entire 25-man payroll for the team Dice-K was pitching against.

Dogged since the Babe Ruth sale with the reputation of skinflints, the Red Sox have shown no hesitancy since new ownership took over in 2002 to spend what they think it will take to win.

Some of the moves, like signing J.D. Drew at $14 million a year, and spending millions in midseason on Eric Gagne to pitch middle relief, even look Yankees-esque in their questionable return on investment. But now Alex Rodriguez beckons, and the Red Sox have a chance to land the biggest Yankees catch of them all.

Like the Yankees, they have the money to spend. Forbes estimates the team has more than doubled in value since 2001 to $724 million, and the team has sold out 388 straight regular season games.

Unlike the Yankees, the Red Sox don’t have a meddling owner, with John Henry and Tom Werner content to figure out ways to put in more seats at Fenway Park, while watching their investment grow. That has allowed team president Larry Lucchino and boy wonder GM Theo Epstein to put together a team that seems solidly built for years to come.

Lucchino, of course, is the one who famously called the Yankees the “Evil Empire” a few years back.

Well, the Yankees haven’t won a World Series in seven years and the empire appears in decline.

Evil has been defeated, but with victory comes new risk for Boston.

They’re not warm and fuzzy anymore, and no longer seem all that lovable.

Red Sox fans will take that, though, because the most important thing is the Yankees are now chasing them.

Tim Dahlberg is a national sports columnist for The Associated Press. Write to him at

AP-ES-10-29-07 0012EDT

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