Two years ago, a publicly tense saga starring Derek Jeter and the Yankees concluded with a stirring finish, when — upon agreeing to a three-year, $45-million extension — the star shortstop said he was "angry" with the way things went down. For someone who hates controversy more than he hates sitting out a ballgame, this was a 10.0 on the Jeter Richter Scale.

A friend of general manager Brian Cashman, Jeter's primary nemesis in the negotiations, laughed afterward.

"I bet that bothered Brian for one, maybe two seconds," the friend said. "If Mariano had said something like that, now that would've bothered Brian."

Which brings us to the next Yankees front. Though negotiations are still in the infancy stage, the team would like Mariano Rivera to agree to a cut from last year's $15 million salary, an industry source confirmed. Early indications, however, are that this delicate exercise will be far less bloody and muddy than when Jeter wound up with a smaller paycheck.

"He wants to come back. We want him back," Cashman said yesterday at the general managers' meetings. "That's the hard part. I am sure we will work through the issues."

"I can't comment on that," Fernando Cuza, Rivera's representative, told the Post's George King. "Brian and I have not talked about that."