The Boston Red Sox enter the final series of the 2012 with nothing on the line, except the chance to play spoilers against the rival New York Yankees. Boston's season has been a bust, to say the least, and fans like me have almost no reason to watch as this team is finally put out of its misery.
Sadly, the only reason the three-game series in the Bronx holds any interest is the Red Sox chance to knock the Yankees out of the American League East Division pennant race and force the Yankees into a one-game wild card playoff game.
The Red Sox have basically laid down and died for nearly every opponent during August and September. That's why the team is in danger of recording its worst record since 1966, in the dark days before the Impossible Dream team of 1967 rejuvenated fans in New England and renewed interest that has last through two generations. Boston was 9-20 in August, and 7-18 in September, nose-diving to the bottom of the AL East standings.
But, as October opens, there are three games to go and the Red Sox Nation can take the smallest amount of satisfaction if their team plays well enough to ensure that the hated Yankees have a somewhat tougher playoff task.
It won't be easy. The Red Sox are 5-10 against the Yankees so far in 2012. They are sending a glorified minor league lineup to the field night after night. But they will start Clay Buchholz and Jon Lester in the first two games of the season, before virtually waving a white flag and sending Daisuke Matsuzaka to the mound in the season finale.
Is winning two out of three at Yankee Stadium too much for diehard fans of this die-easy team to hope for? No, it isn't exactly realistic. The Yankees have a first-round playoff bye to fight for. Their ace, lefthander CC Sabathia, will pitch in the opener. First baseman Mark Teixeira will be returning from injury. But a guy can dream, can't he?
New York has already clinched a playoff spot, so the fondest wish of Red Sox fans at this point - knocking the Yankees out of the postseason altogether - is this season's impossible dream. The best Boston can do is make it more difficult on their rivals by forcing them to face the other wold card winner in a one-game, winner-take-all playoff. That would most likely the Oakland A's, although the Los Angeles Angels still have slim playoff hopes as well.
"They would like nothing better than to spoil our season," Yankees catcher Russell Martin says of the series with the Red Sox. "Us knowing that, I don't think anybody is going to take them lightly."
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Rick Blaine, an award-winning broadcaster and columnist, is a lifelong Red Sox fan. Follow him on Twitter @RickBlaineCT.