PHOENIX -- A group of four reporters met with Red Sox manager Terry Francona in his office on Friday before the game against the Diamondbacks. It won't be that way Saturday or Sunday, however.

When the Red Sox work out at Yankee Stadium on Saturday, there will likely be close to 100 media members hanging onto Francona's every word. Because the manager's office won't be big enough to accomodate the crowd, Francona will field media questions in a larger room.

The media contingent will expand on Sunday night, when the Red Sox and Yankees open the regular season in a nationally televised game. Yankee Stadium will be in a frenzy by the first pitch.

"In the standings, they are just another game," Francona said on Friday. "I'd be trying to lie if I said it was just another game. There's a lot of emotion, intensity and interest. We'll be consumed with that the next 48 hours and plus some.

"It's funny. On one hand, the games are exciting, but when we leave there, it's all like a relief. It's not a letdown, but you can just go play baseball. This series is just so much more than baseball. It gets a little out of hand."

The Red Sox play the Yankees in six of their first nine games. The Red Sox would like to repeat their results from last April, when they won six of seven from the Yankees.

"It didn't matter," Francona said of the early-season success. "They ended up having their way in the middle of the season. It's who is standing last that matters."

The Red Sox were the last team standing at the end of the 2004 season, having become the first Major League team to come back from a 3-0 deficit in the playoffs to eliminate the Yankees.

"I don't think we humiliated them," Francona said. "I don't think 'humiliated' is the right word. We just came back. We beat them in a situation where nobody has been beaten before. The Yankees didn't choke. They just lost. We were a good team."

The Red Sox will take an eight-game winning streak from the playoffs into the season, but Francona wasn't buying it.

"In my opinion, we have a no-game winning streak," Francona countered.

While the Red Sox-Yankees series will be all consuming to start the season, Francona finds it amusing the two teams also end the season against each other at Fenway Park.

"I know Major League Baseball thinks it has probably got a chance to be the [be-all, end-all]," he said. "I bet you the odds say that those games are going to be [like] exhibition games. If you play those games around the 20th of September, you're pretty much insuring those games [would be meaningful], so I'm a little bit surprised by that.

"It seems like it would be nothing worse than taking a Yankee-Red Sox series and having [Dave] McCarty throw two innings. That's got a chance to happen. The chances that it comes down to the last day aren't that good."


McCarty back: McCarty earned a roster spot as a backup first baseman, reserve outfielder, pinch-hitter and emergency reliever.

McCarty, who pitched in three games last season, hit .258 with four home runs and 17 RBIs in 90 games. He was re-signed to a minor league contract in the offseason with an invite to Spring Training.

"It was incredible, just the atmosphere," McCarty said of last year's World Series run. "There is truly a Red Sox Nation, a national fan base. A lot more people recognize me at home -- I live in Oakland -- now that I'm with Boston than when I played with Oakland."

He said his personal regular-season highlight was a walk-off home run on May 30 against the Mariners.

"I don't know if it's going to be tougher to repeat," McCarty said. "It's harder to win it any year. Not that we surprised anybody last year, but we're certainly not going to surprise anybody this year either.

"We're really focused on what we need to do, what's important this year. Last year is over."

McCarty, 35, hopes to play a few more years.

"When you're a bench guy, you don't have the wear and tear on your body that guys who play every day do," McCarty said. "I work hard in the offseason to stay in shape and keep myself ready."

McCarty, who has an economics degree from Stanford, would not mind moving into the front office once his playing days are over.

"It's something I'm considering," McCarty said. "When I'm done playing, I'll see what doors open for me and then make that decision."

Knuckling under: Tim Wakefield's final Spring Training start did not go well. The right-hander retired only two of the 10 Diamondbacks he faced before being replaced by Tim Kester.

Wakefield, who allowed just one run on four hits over six innings against the Pirates in his previous start, allowed six runs on six hits, two walks and a sacrifice fly.

"My only concern was, and I talked to him, was don't let this affect you," Francona said. "I think he's smart enough to not let that happen. He had a pretty good spring. Throw it out the window because next week nobody is going to care. My concern was to let him throw enough, but not too much. He understood that."

Wakefield threw 47 pitches.

"That's a long inning, whether you're throwing a knuckleball or not," Francona said.

Wakefield said dryness "could have" had something to do with his knuckleball being ineffective.

"Nothing felt comfortable," he said. "I was fighting my mechanics from the first pitch to the last one I made. Nothing felt great. If I could keep one positive out of it, they really never elevated the ball. When things go bad for me, that's what happens.

"I'd like to have got some more work in, but you can't extend me past 40 pitches in one inning."

Around the horn: The Red Sox finished the Grapefruit League with a 13-15-1 record. ... Former World Heavyweight Champion Muhammad Ali was among the crowd of 35,395 at Bank One Ballpark on Friday. The crowd chanted "Ali, Ali" as he entered in the bottom of the first. ... Trot Nixon had two of Boston's eight hits, including a double in the first, and scored a run.