Reprinted from yesterday's late edition

In the eternal psychological war between the baseball foes of New York and Boston, the Yankees inflicted the equivalent of a nervous breakdown on the Red Sox last night, 15-3.

The defending world champions were not content with a victory in this opener of a vital four-game series which trimmed Boston's division lead to three games. They wanted to issue a vivid statement of their future brutal intentions as well. The Yanks did it in spades.

Twenty of the first 30 New Yorkers reached base as the Bronx marauders roared to a 12-0 lead by the fourth inning.

This was a night for the borderline impossible:

By the time Boston's Butch Hobson, who made two more throwing miscues for a season error total of 38, came to bat for his first time, the Yank catcher, Thurman Munson, was already three-for-three.

Thousands of fans in the sellout of 34,119 walked out of Penway Park before the Yanks stopped circling the bases in the fourth inning.

Those fans who remained were bitterly cynical, reflecting generations of Boston frustration at Yankee hands. When Munson stalked to the plate in the fourth, the crowd began chanting, "We wanna hit."

At that point, the Yanks had amassed 15 hits while making only 10 outs, lambasting three Sox pitchers - Mike Torrez, Andy Hassler and Dick Drago - with fierce impartiality.

After seven innings, the Yankee linescore spread across the famous Wall scoreboard read: "2-3-2-5-0-1."

Dial that seven-digit number on a Boston-area phone and the result is a recording which says, "This is no longer a working number."

As the Yankees ran up their season highs for both runs and hits, the Sox looked distinctly "out of service."

The Yank assault was doubly incredible because a 30-mile-per-hour wind blew directly in over the outfield wall all night. The Yanks did not have a single cheap "Fenway" hit, nor did they bat even one ball off or over the Monster on the fly.

Of the 21 Yankee hits, not one traveled more than 250 feet in the air. All, except two scratch hits, were blistered liners to all fields.

"We'll have a pitcher's duel tonight," Sox Manager Don Zimmer predicted before the game. "We usually hit 50 balls a night into the screen in BP. Tonight we didn't hit one."

Little did Zimmer suspect that the Yankees would eschew the long ball and play hit-'em-where-they-ain't - a game the Bronx Bandits have learned well in their native, huge, Yankee Stadium.

This game was sprinkled with the bizarre.

For instance, Carl Yastzemski became so bored in left field during the New York barrage that he took to conversing with the Man Inside The Wall who changes the scoreboard numbers.

However, the evenings most curious sight was Catfish Hunter's voluntary exit after three innings with a 12-0 lead.

"Sure, Catfish felt a little twinge," said teammate Jim Spencer. "Another pitcher would have been greedy for the win. But Cat's thinking about the team, and his arm, and his next start. So he did the smart thing, and came out."

"I wasn't out of gas, that's for sure," chuckled Hunter, ambling out a Fenway Park tunnel near midnight . "Dang," said the millionaire pitcher, stopping abruptly to pick up a penny, "I'm finding money."

Getting to relieve Hunter was as good as finding money.

The official Yankee explanation was that Hunter pulled a groin muscle. From laughing?

The Yankee bullpen engaged in a mock wrestling match to decide who would get to the mound first to pick up the discount win. While Sparky Lyle and Rich Gossage were tripping each other, Ken Clay ambled in.

Clay gave up a two-run homer to Carlton Fisk on his first pitch, then waltzed through the rest of the night.

With two out in the bottom of the ninth, Clay stepped off the mound in amazement. The remaining fans - perhaps 4,000 - were giving a standing ovation for the Sox to score a quick 13 runs to tie.

Clay toed the rubber and on one pitch brought an end to the Red Sox' most distressing night of the year.

The Yankees also escaped distress of another kind. In the sixth, Boston offered its only token retaliation: Drago planted his best fast ball square in the center of Munson's forehead.

The Yankee captain lay motionless at home plate for several minutes, but never lost consciousness, thanks to his batting helmet.The Yanks reported that Munson was uninjured, and would probably be ready for tonight's game that matches Boston's Jim Wright against Jim Beattie.

Munson left Fenway last night with one bad headache. The Red Sox left with 25.