Every night at Fenway Park, a loud derisive cheer rings out about the Yankees — sometimes laced with profanity. Then there are those very rare times when a Red Sox fan is forced to root for the Yankees.
This is one of those times.
Tampa Bay will face the Yankees seven times over the final week — and go a long way in determining the fate of the Red Sox making the playoffs.
While it has not happened this late in a season, there is a small precedent for it.
Three years ago, the Red Sox were one game out of first place after the Yankees took two-of-three from the Rays with 15 to play in mid-September. Tampa Bay took two-of-three in Fenway, never lost its divisional lead and wound up beating the Red Sox in Game Seven of the ALCS.
“It’s not too often that you see that,” Johnny Damon said before Tuesday night’s game at Yankee Stadium. “But they’re going to have to root for the Yankees — whether they like it or not, whether they admit it.”
Damon was able to say that because of the recent damage the Rays inflicted on the Red Sox. On Aug. 7, the Rays were 10 games out of the AL Wild Card. Since, they have gone 26-13 over their last 39 games.
That includes seven games against the Red Sox on consecutive weekends. Tampa Bay swept three at home and then took three-of-four in Fenway Park, knocking the deficit from seven games to two games.
“You just can tell with their fans and how quiet the place was,” Damon said. “Even when they were scoring runs this past weekend. It was like we need to score more, we need to do that kind of stuff.”
If the Rays can pull this off, they would be the first team to be nine out on Sept. 2 to reach the postseason. They also would be the first AL team to overcome a four-game deficit with 12 games to play to reach the postseason and the fifth to overcome a deficit of more than six games with 20 games or fewer remaining to reach the postseason.
“We sure hope so but we know New York wants to clinch this thing as quick as they can, so they can start setting up their postseason rosters and rotation,” Damon said. “So the Red Sox are finally going to root for the Yankees after all these years. It’s pretty funny when you think about it.”
Follow Yankees beat writer Larry Fleisher on Twitter @LarryFleisher.