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Thursday, September 22, 2011
Updated: September 23, 8:09 PM ET
Time is now to bury the Red Sox

By Wallace Matthews
ESPNNewYork.com

Joe Girardi promises he's going to keep his foot on the gas this weekend against the Red Sox.

Better he should promise to keep his boot on their throats.

Earlier in the day, Russell Martin, sounding very much like a True Yankee, said, "I hate the Red Sox."

Now it's time for the manager to take it a step further. He and his team hate playing the Red Sox, as their 4-11 regular-season record against them demonstrates.

Why put yourself in the position of having to find a way to beat them four more times in just seven games?

Russell Martin
Yankees catcher Russell Martin says he hates the Red Sox, and is thrilled with the opportunity to end their postseason hopes.

The Yankees have already proved their point, that they are the better team this season, but what better way to put an exclamation point on a remarkable year than by driving the final stake through the heart of the Bogeymen formerly known as the Boston Red Sox?

We all remember the preseason hype and hyperbole, when just about every baseball expert worth his rosin dust was picking the Red Sox not just to win the AL East, but to run off with the world championship.

In fact, here are the tragic numbers from ESPN baseball experts alone: 45 out of 45 picked the Red Sox to win the AL East; 42 of 45 picked them to get to the World Series; and 33 out of 45 had them winning it all.

(In the interest of full disclosure, I was not one of the experts. Here is my non-expert opinion, published on Jan. 15, 2011, on what would happen in the AL East this season: http://es.pn/dYKgsy. I know, I'm a homer.)

By those numbers, the Yankees barely had any business showing up for the season. They even had some people swallowing the canard that despite their $200 million-plus payroll, they were somehow the "underdogs" in the AL East race.

And yet, here we are, with six games left to go and it is the Yankees who are cruising into October and the Red Sox who are fighting for their playoff lives.

The Yankees' mission this weekend is: End this fight now. Put the Red Sox out of their misery this month or risk your own misery next month.

Because as much of a bust as the Red Sox have turned out to be this season, that's how much of a bane they can be to the Yankees in the postseason.

"If they still get in, they are going to have the same chance to run the table as we do," said GM Brian Cashman, who had as good a year as any of his players. "They get to reset the clock, and believe me I understand that. Believe me, I've been there."

He was talking about the 2000 season, when the Yankees won the division but lost 15 of their last 18 games and stumbled into the playoffs ripe to be taken.

Then, they went 11-5 in October to win their 26th world championship, capping their run with a convincing five-game win over the Mets in the World Series.

So you never want to let a good team off the mat, and of the remaining three teams in the AL wild-card race -- Tampa Bay and the Angels are the other two -- the Red Sox are still the best.

In fact, the ideal ending to the Yankees' season is as follows: Lose to the Tampa Bay Rays Thursday night at Yankee Stadium. Check.

Sweep the Red Sox this weekend.

And get swept in Tampa on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday.

Yes, I know, it's preferable to go into the playoffs behind a head of steam than to stagger in off a three-game losing streak, but you must think of the bigger picture.

Yes, the Red Sox were overrated and overhyped. They underperformed terribly, even laughably, in the beginning of the season and now, at its end.

But if the goal is to get to the World Series and maybe even win it -- the Philadelphia Phillies, of course, have been as hyped as the Red Sox but at least have performed up to it -- the Yankees' best hope lies in a field without Boston.

The Rays are young and scrappy and have sensational starting pitching. But, their 15-8 victory Thursday night over the Yankees notwithstanding, they generally aren't much of a threat offensively and their bullpen is a disaster.

The Red Sox, on the other hand, can put up runs in bunches. They could do it last year, too. In fact, that was one of the reasons why I didn't go as gaga over their offseason as so many others, because it seemed that they did the most strengthening to their area of least need.

David Ortiz
The Red Sox can still pack a punch. So the Yankees would be wise to put them away this weekend.

And sure enough, this season the Red Sox have scored 33 more runs than they did all of last year and so far, won one fewer game. What made them dangerous last year is what makes them dangerous this year. And the things that made them vulnerable -- a shaky back of the rotation and unreliable bullpen -- are still there.

But their offensive explosiveness, especially at Fenway Park, is an aspect the Yankees would be better off not having to deal with in a short series, especially since they, too, have shaky starting pitching once you get past CC Sabathia and Ivan Nova.

That is why it's important that the Yankees finish off the Red Sox this weekend.

Girardi issued his ''foot on the gas" proclamation as an assurance that the Yankees, who fielded a lineup minus Curtis Granderson, Robinson Cano, Alex Rodriguez, Brett Gardner and Russell Martin, would be playing for keeps the rest of the way.

But predictably enough, the manager refused to say if he had a preference in the wild-card tussle, which, by extension, could well be the Yankees' ALCS opponent.

"That's hard to say, it really is," Girardi said when asked if he preferred to face the Rays or the Red Sox in the postseason. "They both have their strengths. My responsibility is to our club. Obviously our goal is to get home-field advantage, and the important thing to me is that we take care of our guys and have them ready to play next Friday."

He should also be concerned with whom his guys are going up against.

Right now, the Yankees' first-round opponent will be either the Texas Rangers, who ended their playoff run in last year's ALCS, or the Detroit Tigers. Neither will be a walkover, and there's no guarantee that whoever survives the wild-card rumble will make it out of the division series.

"I have no preference, because every team is dangerous in the playoffs," Derek Jeter said. "I also learned a long time ago, you never wish to play a team. Because you just might get 'em."

You can, however, wish not to play a team, and if they Yankees are smart, they will wish not to play the Red Sox in the postseason.

And starting Friday night, they can make sure they won't have to.