Bronx, NY, USA; Boston Red Sox player Pedro Ciriaco is tagged out by New York Yankees catcher Russell Martin at Yankee Stadium. Credit: Tim Farrell/THE STAR-LEDGER via US PRESSWIRE
The Red Sox don't have anything to play for this season. At least, that's what you think until the Yankees come to town.
The worst part of becoming a national baseball writer was having the chip installed. They go in through the nose and implant the chip on the frontal lobe. They say it doesn't hurt. They lie.
The second-worst part of becoming a national baseball writer was when the chip is activated. Before every Yankees/Red Sox series, there's a shrieking alarm that only you can hear. It pulses, rattles your teeth. The light in the room dims at first, but then it flickers and blinds you. And you know it's not going to stop until you write something about the Yankees and Red Sox, even if there's no way it's going to be comprehensible or intelligent because you're writing in excruciating pain. You just want to write something, anything about the Yankees and Red Sox, even if it's complete crap, just to make the pain stop.
When the article is done, the chip shuts down. There is peace.
Every national baseball writer and announcer has one of these chips. It's not really a secret, but it probably explains a lot for you.
But the chip didn't go off this time. There's a Yankees/Red Sox game falling in the forest, and no one's sure if it's making a sound. For the first time since 1997, it's September and the Red Sox aren't on at least the fringes of a playoff race. And it's not just that -- they're bad. Like, really, really bad. The Red Sox currently have a .447 winning percentage -- they haven't finished with a worse winning percentage since 1966. I'd say the last truly awful Red Sox team was the last-place bunch from 1992.
The Yankees, according to some research provided by Baseball Reference, have been good for a long time. No, no. It checks out. The last time they were miserable was that same 1992 season, in which the Blue Jays and Brewers fought for AL East supremacy. So it's been a while since either the Yankees or Red Sox have been bad.
What's more, is that it's been a while since one team has been fighting for a playoff spot, while the other one is playing out the string of a lost season. This isn't a season like 2008, where both the Yankees and Red Sox were fighting for one Wild Card spot. It's not a season like 2007, where both teams were fighting for the division, but both were going to make the playoffs, regardless.
No, this is a classic spoiler situation. The Red Sox don't have much to look forward to -- they'll be searching for glimmers of hope from Jon Lester, evaluating players like Ryan Lavarnway and Jose Iglesias, and progressing toward a long-term deal with James Loney. The little things. The Yankees, on the other hand, are fighting for their lives, with just two games in the standings separating them from missing the playoffs entirely. The Red Sox still have six games against the Yankees this season. They could really futz things up for their rivals.
It's the first time for a spoiler situation like this between the two teams since 1993, when the Red Sox were struggling to stay over .500, and the Yankees were just a couple games back of the Blue Jays. The Yankees went into a four-game series against the Red Sox 2½ games behind the Blue Jays. They left the series four games back.
That's good ol' fashioned spoilin'. And it's new for a lot of Red Sox fans. There are people in Boston with families who haven't seen the simple joys of spoiling since they were young children. It seems like a pointless consolation prize -- the schadenfreude of watching the Yankees struggle can't compare with the enjoyment of watching the Red Sox march toward the playoffs. So what's the point?
It's fun. It's really, really fun. It isn't nourishing, but it's still one of the best parts of baseball. Following a team that's playing the spoiler against their hated rival is baseball junk food. Too much of it will make you sick. A steady stream of it, and you'll get sallow and gnarled. But in just the right moment, it's the box of Ding Dongs during the Twilight Zone marathon, the hot pizza delivered to your door after a night of drinking.
That's where the Red Sox are right now. This is the perfect time to spoil, to let out some frustrations and rage that have been festering and growing black. Remember the Orioles from last season:
Those weren't fake smiles. That wasn't an act. The Orioles got to celebrate the completion of a successful task, but it was one that happened to eliminate another team. And it took a walk-off win, but they they celebrated as if they had just won the pennant. The Red Sox can still find that same kind of mirth after a debacle of a season.
But the opportunity to spoil comes at a cost: There's also the chance that the Yankees can grind the Red Sox into a powder. The Yankees might get the chance to mob on the field in excitement as the Red Sox watch, which would reinforce everything awful about this season and the horrid sport that Red Sox fans picked for whatever regrettable reason.
The opportunity to spoil could be a blessing for Red Sox fans without a lot to look forward to. But it could be a curse. For those of us on the outside, we're just happy it's interesting. Not only is interesting, but it's interesting in a completely different way, with an underdog and everything. And that damned chip isn't going off. This is the easiest Yankees/Red Sox series to watch in some time. Except for the four-and-a-half-hour thing. But focus on the potential for spoiling instead. It should be fun.