In the next three days, we’ll see just how far this Red Sox / Yankees rivalry really goes.
With the season winding down, the Red Sox limp toward the finish line and a potential wild card spot. Despite going 6-18 through September, they’re still in front…barely. Closing in fast are the Tampa Bay Rays. That means the Red Sox will be cheering on the Rays opponent for this final series: the New York Yankees.
This puts the Yankees in a very powerful spot – a “top” if you will – in determining who secures the American League wild card. Tank these 3 games against the Tampa Bay Rays, and you’ve got a very good chance of knocking the Red Sox out of the playoffs without even playing them.
But would they?
If this were a REAL rivalry, a deep-seated, near-religious loathing that truly ran as deep as we’re led to the believe, I would say yes, without a doubt. I don’t think the Yankees have the gonads to pull a stunt like that though.
Barely three days ago, Yankees catcher Russel Martin admitted “I hate the Red Sox” and “Anything to get the Red Sox out would be awesome for me,” and then you know what his team did? They lost to the Rays 15-8 (though they had just beat the Rays in the previous 3 games). Consider the Yankees general manager recently claimed to have shown interest in outfielder Carl Crawford during the last offseason only to drive up the price the Red Sox would eventually pay him. Whether or not those were his real intentions is an entirely different debate, but it clearly illustrates that the rivalry plays out beyond the framework of 9 innings. Interesting.
Listen, I doubt any team would deliberately lose a game – or at least admit it. There’s too much pride and competition in professional (or even rec-league) sports for anyone to throw a game – though the 1919 Chicago White Sox offer a strong counterpoint. But will they put their best foot forward against the Rays? Will they truly be motivated to win these last three games? I suspect some younger players will see some time while key starters sit out, if only to rest for the playoffs. Whatever the motive, these tactics could easily be spun as a sound end-of-season strategy.
Would it REALLY be New York if they acknowledged the existence of any other city? This is best team in the biggest city in the USA. Maybe part of the rivalry is pretending you don’t even care about the rivalry. They could beat anyone, anywhere, any time. The REAL prize is winning another World Series, no matter who you have to play.
Let’s not forget the Rays. If the Yankees lose to them, they’d end up facing them in the playoffs. Could the Yankees be cunning enough to use the next three nights as a psyche-out? Sandbagging it before coming on full-force in the playoffs? Or would the confidence boost and momentum they’d give to the Rays backfire on the Yankees in the playoffs?
Still, if the Yankees are confident enough that they could beat anyone, any time and if the two teams TRULY hate each other as much as legend says, either of them would absolutely pull a stunt like that. Of course, the athletes aren’t MassHoles and Bleacher Creatures. These are rational, paid professionals who want to beat any team, anywhere, anytime. In fact, the slumping Red Sox might be a more desirable opponent than the Tampa Bay Rays.
Regardless of New York’s motives – the situation puts the Red Sox in a tough spot. They’ll put their hopes not just in their own team, but also in the Yankees, on the road, with 3 meaningless games to play before the playoffs.