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Slumping Sox may find pick-me-up in pinstripes

By Peter Abraham
Globe Staff / September 11, 2012
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The Red Sox are on pace to lose 90 games for the first time since 1966 and field a lineup full of fringe big leaguers. Staying out of last place would be an accomplishment at this point.

The good news, perhaps, is that the first-place Yankees arrive at Fenway Park on Tuesday for a three-game series.

Yes, that could be good news for the lifeless Sox. Right fielder Cody Ross believes the presence of a contending team in the third base dugout could prod the Sox into playing better.

“Absolutely,” he said. “It’s totally different because you can see on the other side that teams are pressing and every pitch matters, every play matters, every matchup matters.

“Sometimes when you’re playing against teams that aren’t necessarily in it, you’ll see righties face lefthanded pitchers and lefties face righthanded pitchers late in the game. I doubt we’ll see a lot of that when the Yankees come into town. There will be a little more atmosphere I assume.”

The Sox have lost four straight and 11 of 12 games. But professional pride requires a better effort in a game that has postseason implications, particularly when it’s against the Yankees.

“It should,” said righthander Clay Buchholz, who took the loss against the Blue Jays on Sunday. “It’s been a long time since this team has been in this position. We’ve got to try to grind through it right now. It’s not always going to happen exactly the way you want it to happen. But more times than not, you try to control the little things you can control. With the team that we have here, we’ll be able to succeed.”

The Red Sox are not accustomed to being in this awkward position. They were in contention until that eventful final day of the season in 2011 and weren’t eliminated until the last week of the 2010 season.

Now the Red Sox have to take satisfaction at making it difficult for other teams for the next three weeks. The Sox will play contending teams in 18 of their final 21 games. Players like Pedro Ciriaco, Mauro Gomez, and Clayton Mortensen could have a big impact on the pennant race.

“Obviously it’s going to be a different feel than what we’re used to around here. But we’ll play spoiler. All we can do now is go out and try and ruin people’s seasons because ours is pretty much. So that’s what we’ll do,” Ross said.

“Now that we’re getting into playing the Yankees and the Orioles and teams that are contending in our division, who basically knocked the [Red Sox] out last year, there will be some exciting games hopefully.”

Buchholz has the secondary goal of these games embarrassing the Sox into improving so they don’t go through this next season.

“Hopefully this feeling that everybody has in this clubhouse will make us not want to have this feeling again,” he said. “Hopefully it gets us headed in the right direction.”

The Yankees led the division by 10 games on July 18 and had a six-game edge on Aug. 17 after a victory against the Sox in the Bronx.

They have lost 13 of 21 games since and lead the Orioles by one game and the Rays by two. With the race so close and four teams bunched closely in the wild-card race, the Yankees face the possibility of missing the postseason entirely.

Three times in the last week, the Yankees fell into a tie for the division lead, then came back to win the next day. Unlike the 2011 Red Sox, the Yankees have so far avoided a total collapse.

The Yankees have played their last 10 games against the Orioles and Rays. Derek Jeter isn’t expecting an easy time at Fenway Park because the Red Sox are struggling.

“At this point there’s no letdown. You go to Boston, I don’t care what their record is, it’s always a fun atmosphere, the games are big, the fans get into it,” he said. “We don’t have the luxury of letting down. We have to play, and we have to play each and every day.”

The rivalry between the teams, Jeter said, transcends the disparity between the franchises at the moment.

“Always. It doesn’t make a difference,” he said. “These guys want to win, and when they compete, they want to win. I would expect it to be a very tough series for us.”

The schedule would seem to favor the Yankees. Of their remaining 22 games, 16 are against teams out of contention. They play the Red Sox six times, the Blue Jays seven times, and have a three-game series against the Twins.

Their final 10 games are against the Twins, Jays, and Sox. But that only comforts manager Joe Girardi to a degree.

“I’ve seen too many times in the American League that it doesn’t matter who you play. If you don’t make your pitches and put [forth] good at-bats, you’re going to get beat,” he said.

The Sox are 4-8 against the Yankees this season, 1-5 at Fenway Park. The Yankees have won seven of their last nine games in Boston.

Peter Abraham can be reached at pabraham@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @PeteAbe.

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