BOSTON Last year the Red Sox had their season ended on the last day in gut-wrenching fashion by the Orioles. The last place Orioles. The doormat Orioles. The cellar-dwelling Orioles.
You remember them, right? Those were the same Orioles who won five of their final seven games in the last 10 days of the season against the Red Sox. Those same Orioles had not been to the postseason since 1997. The devilish joy of playing spoiler in September was made for those kinds of teams.
Those Orioles are now not only contending for the playoffs but contending for first place in the American League East.
While the Red Sox will miss the postseason for the third straight year, they were at least in contention in those Septembers. This season, out of contention and struggling to stay competitive, they find themselves in the unfamiliar and unenviable position of hoping to at least play spoiler, having some say in the play-off race, ending the season with some measure of respectability.
The Sox final 21 games are against their American League East rivals. Beginning Tuesday, all but three of those games (this weekend in Toronto) are against play-off hopefuls, with six each against the Yankees, Rays, and Os. The Sox host the Yankees for three games beginning Tuesday.
Obviously, its going to be a different feel than what people are used to around here, said Cody Ross. But well play spoiler. Thats all we can do now, is try to go out and ruin peoples seasons because ours is pretty much. So, thats what well do. I think now that were getting into playing against the Yankees and the Orioles and teams that are contending in our division, who basically knocked the Red Sox out last year, therell be some exciting games hopefully.
While the Sox are playing out the proverbial string, trying to see what young players such as Ryan Lavarnway, Jose Iglesias, and Ryan Kalish might be able to offer as they plan for 2013, there is also the hope that playing contending division rivals can raise their own level of play.
Oh, absolutely, Ross said. Atmosphere is totally different because you can see on the other side that teams are pressing and every pitch matters, every play matters, every match-up mattes. Sometimes youre playing against teams that arent necessarily in it. Youll see guys, righties facing left-handed pitchers and lefties face right-handed pitchers late in the game. Whereas, I doubt youll see a lot of that when you the Yankees come into town. But yeah, therell be a little more atmosphere, I would assume.
It should, said Clay Buchholz, who took the loss Sunday. Its been a long time since this teams been in this position. So weve got to try to grind through it right now and put some good at-bats together like the guys did today. Its not always going to happen like you want. More times than not, when you do the little things, the things you can control, I think well be able to succeed.
Despite Sundays loss, the Sox level of play was marginally better than it has been a starting pitcher going deep into a game, keeping the opponent off the scoreboard until the offense can score first in a game there is still much, much work to be done.
Whether the Sox can impact the play-off race remains to be seen. But they hope their current role the last place, doormat, cellar-dwelling Sox has at least taught them something.
Its the first time since Ive been here where thats been the case, said Buchholz. Hopefully, this feeling that everyone has in this clubhouse will make you not want to have this feeling again and were headed in the right direction.