BOSTON -- Contrary to popular belief, the Red Sox will be involved in the pennant race over these final three weeks of the season. It's just that their role is a highly unfamiliar one.
Down the stretch, Boston is right in position to ruin a lot of fun for other teams.
Yes, the Red Sox are in the ultimate position to play spoilers.
Of the 21 games Boston has left, 18 are against the Yankees, Orioles and Rays, three teams that are in heated pursuit of the American League East title. The two teams that don't win the East will be fighting for their Wild Card lives.
Not much has been fun for a reeling Red Sox team that is 15 games under .500 for the first time since 1992. But this opportunity could be at least a little energizing.
Up first are the Yanks, who come to Fenway for a three-game series on Tuesday night.
"Obviously it's going to be a different feel than what people are used to around here. We'll play spoiler," said Red Sox outfielder Cody Ross. "That's all we can do now, is try to ruin people's seasons, because ours is pretty much [ruined]. That's what we'll do. I think that now we're getting into playing against the Yankees and Orioles and the teams that are contending in our division, they will be some exciting games, hopefully."
Nobody has to tell the Red Sox about spoilers. During their epic September collapse last season, the O's took five out of seven from them over the final two weeks of the season.
As for New York, Boston never needs much added motivation to get ready for those games.
Of late, the Red Sox have been in a severe funk. They've lost 11 out of 12. Since Aug. 1, Boston is 10-27.
The reality of playing for next year started to sink in once Adrian Gonzalez, Josh Beckett, Carl Crawford and Nick Punto were packaged in a trade to the Dodgers.
David Ortiz (right Achilles) probably won't take another swing in a game this season. Will Middlebrooks (broken right wrist) definitely won't.
But Dustin Pedroia hasn't shown any signs of a letup. And perhaps Jacoby Ellsbury, who hit a home run Sunday, will finally get hot.
Prospects Jose Iglesias and Ryan Lavarnway will continue to get a chance to show what they can do.
And starters like Jon Lester and Clay Buchholz want to finish strong to bring some momentum into next year.
In other words, the Red Sox, even in their short-handed state, can still play better baseball than they've shown of late.
Being spoilers isn't what any team wishes for this time of year. But the Red Sox have little choice but to try to make the most of it.
"That's the first time I've been here that that's been the case," Buchholz said. "Hopefully this feeling that everybody has in the clubhouse can make you not want to have that feeling again, and hopefully we get it headed in the right direction."
Once the Yankees leave town, the Red Sox will go to Toronto for the weekend and play their last series against a non-contender.
Next week, Boston plays four at Tampa Bay, followed by three at home against Baltimore.
The Rays and Orioles conspired to ruin the 2011 season for the Red Sox. Tampa Bay did so by playing lights out baseball -- which included a 5-1 mark against Boston in September -- and ultimately capturing the Wild Card.
Nobody can forget the sight of the Orioles piling on top of each other at home plate that night of Sept. 28, when Robert Andino's lineout to left could not be caught by Crawford, and the Red Sox's season ended in the most abrupt fashion imaginable.
Boston's final two home games of the season will be against the Rays. The season-ending road trip -- three at Baltimore and three in the Bronx -- should have huge implications for the other team.
The dynamic of these types of series are always strange, because the games mean everything to one team and not nearly as much to the other.
"You can see on the other side, teams are pressing and every pitch matters and every play matters. Every matchup matters," Ross said. "For teams like us that aren't necessarily in it, you'll see righties face left-handed pitchers and lefties face right-handed pitchers late in the game, whereas ... I doubt you'll see a lot of that when the Yankees are coming to town. But there will be a lot more atmosphere, I would assume."
Clearly, the Red Sox could use some better atmosphere after the dreariness of the last few weeks.
So, yes, maybe there will be some added motivation or urgency.
"It should [create that]," said Buchholz. "It's been a long time since this team has been in this position, so we've got to grind through it and put some good at-bats together like we did [in Sunday's 4-3 loss]. It's not always going to happen exactly the way you want it to happen, but more times than not, if you do the little things, the things you can control, even with the team we have here, we'll be able to succeed."