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Asking Sox fans the unthinkable: Root for Yankees?

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By Peter Schworm
Globe Staff / September 21, 2011

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Like worried Red Sox fans everywhere this month, Tom Chapman has watched in pain as the team became unglued and frittered away seemingly insurmountable leads. But even as a shot at the playoffs increasingly appears to depend on somebody stopping the hard-charging Tampa Bay Rays, he just cannot bring himself to root for the only team in a position to do it.

“Can’t do it,’’ Chapman said with a horrified look, as if he had been asked to commit a serious crime. “No chance. Never. Not them.’’

“Them,’’ of course, is the New York Yankees, the Red Sox’s baseball nemesis and Boston’s bete noir, who will face the Rays six times in eight days. Every Yankees victory pushes Tampa Bay lower in the standings, and Boston closer to the playoffs. Some fans say they will put aside old prejudices for the sake of their team, if only grudgingly. But for others, it’s simply too much to ask.

Fabricio Andrade, 20, of Quincy, is originally from Brazil, and only recently adopted the Red Sox. But he quickly learned two tenets of Red Sox fandom. When the Red Sox start slumping, start worrying. When the Yankees are playing, root for the other guys.

“I’m worried,’’ he said. “But I can’t go that far.’’

If fans were divided on whether they could bring themselves to side with the Yankees, they were united in disgust for the Red Sox’ recent play, a dismal confluence of terrible pitching and inconsistent hitting that has led to a barrage of lopsided losses.

“As dreary as the weather,’’ said Robert Kahn, in town from Portland, Maine, for last night’s game. “This has been a drag for any Red Sox fan.’’

Kahn called the prospect of rooting for the Yankees “a crippling thought’’ but said he was hopeful the team would reverse its recent slide and build some momentum, winning enough games to outpace any need to depend on Yankees victories.

Jeff Santos, 44, wearing a shirt emblazoned, “Yankees Go Home,’’ opened the sports section to the American League standings yesterday and winced in dismay, as if the numbers had conspired for the sole purpose of causing him pain.

“Argh!’’ Santos exclaimed and stared grimly at the team’s precarious lead.

“This is very nerve-racking,’’ he said. “It was a lot easier to watch when they had that big lead.’’

Some fans lambasted the Sox for any number of faults, from choking under the pressure to not caring enough, and criticized management for not stockpiling more servicable pitchers in case injuries struck.

Many felt the season was already a lost cause, even if the team held on to make the playoffs. Some said they had moved on emotionally and were redirecting their rooting energies to the New England Patriots.

Amazingly, it was just three weeks ago that the Red Sox seemed poised for a possible World Series run. For four months they steamrolled the opposition, piling up wins with a explosive offense backed by solid pitching.

On Sept. 3, the Red Sox were 84-54, just behind the Yankees and nine games ahead of Tampa Bay.

Since then, they have gone 4-12 - with six of those losses to Tampa Bay - going into last night’s game with the Baltimore Orioles, last in the American League East.

“It’s been very painful,’’ said Janice Coelho. “To say the least.’’

Coelho, 66, watches every game from her Fairhaven home, and cheers the players on by their first names. Until recently, she thoroughly enjoyed he season and had high hopes for the playoffs. But then the injuries mounted, and suddenly, Coelho was watching players she had never seen before. Most of them, she said like a disappointed mother, have not impressed.

Coelho prides herself on being a devoted fan who does not easily lose faith, but the mounting losses have pushed her to the brink. The other day, with the Red Sox headed to yet another loss against Tampa Bay, she openly questioned her faith.

“I asked myself, ‘Why am I watching this?’’ she recalled. “Night after night!’’

Still, most fans predict the Sox will probably squeak into the playoffs, if only with the Yankees’ help.

And some remain hopeful that if they get there, they have the talent to make a run. Star pitcher Josh Beckett is back after an injury, and the team’s biggest weakness - pitching depth - will not matter as much in the postseason. The lineup, while scuffling at times this month, remains potent.

“It seems like a long time ago,’’ said one fan as she rushed to catch a train at South Station. “But they were pretty good for a long stretch there. Maybe October will be different.’’

If they get that far.

Peter Schworm can be reached at schworm@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @globepete.

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