The Tampa Bay Rays and the Boston Red Sox head into the final day of the 2011 MLB regular season tied for the American League Wild Card playoff berth. The American League East champion New York Yankees, by virtue of being Tampa Bay's opponent Wednesday night in the regular-season finale (7:10 p.m. ET, YES/ESPN) find themselves smack dab in the middle of the fray.
This puts Red Sox Nation on the most uncomfortable of all imaginable fences. Boston is on the verge of a historic collapse, having led the Wild Card standings by nine games when the month of September began. Now, a discouraged Red Sox Nation has to root for the hated Yankees to lend them a hand.
If you are manager Joe Girardi and the Yankees, however, how caught up in all of this Wild Card hysteria should you get? The Yankees open the American League Division Series on Friday against either the Detroit Tigers or Texas Rangers. That will also be determined Wednesday night.
As of Wednesday morning, Girardi did not even know who his starting pitcher would be for the season-finale against the Rays. Whoever it turns out to be, it isn't likely to be one of the Yankees' front-line pitchers. For the most part, Wednesday night figures to be a parade of prospects and second-line guys who won't be part of the team's postseason roster.
Girardi also figures to post a 'B List' lineup without most of his regulars. Derek Jeter sits at .298 entering the final game of the season and you know the Captain would love a hit or two to get his average for the season to .300. You wonder if Jeter might get a first-inning at-bat to see if he can get to .300, then get removed from the game. Otherwise, it is entirely possible that -- much to the chagrin of the Red Sox and probably Major League Baseball -- the Yankees could post a lineup tonight with no regular players in it.
Really, who could blame Girardi if that is what he does. Tonight's games mean everything to the Rays and Red Sox. The only important thing for the Yankees, though, is getting through the finale without getting any key players hurt.