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BOSTON, MA - SEPTEMBER 11: Pedro Ciriaco #77 of the Boston Red Sox celebrates with teammate Dustin Pedroia #15 following their walk-off win against the New York Yankees in the bottom of the ninth inning during the game on September 11, 2012 at Fenway Park in Boston, Massachusetts.  (Photo by Jared Wickerham/Getty Images)

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Last Night, at Least, the Red Sox Played Spoiler

Remember how, on the incredible final day of the 2011 regular season, the Orioles rallied to beat the Red Sox, helping keep them out of a playoff spot. Remember the wild celebration on the field after that final game at Camden Yards, by a team that finished the season 69-93? It's something of a cliché, but that game was the Orioles' World Series last season, except instead of celebrating a championship of their own, they celebrated the fact that they'd helped dash the title hopes of a divisional rival, just as Tampa Bay was completing an incredible comeback at Tropicana Field to secure the A.L.'s Wild Card berth. And so this week, those four teams are squaring off, and once again, three of the four have dreams of a postseason run. This time, though, it's the Red Sox looking to play spoiler — and last night, they did.

A half-inning after a Derek Jeter ground-rule double gave the Yankees a 3–2 lead, Hiroki Kuroda served up a solo homer to Dustin Pedroia to knot the game at three. The score would remain tied until the bottom of the ninth, when a Jacoby Ellsbury single off David Robertson (in his second inning of work) plated the game-winning run ahead of Ichiro Suzuki's throw. The parallels to last season aren't perfect: Baltimore was a team that wasn't expected to do anything last year, and so at least the final series of the season provided some welcome excitement. The Red Sox, meanwhile, were expected to at least compete for a playoff spot this season, before their season went to hell and they dumped a quarter billion dollars' worth of salary on the Dodgers. This is hardly the type of excitement they were hoping for. But don't think for a second the Red Sox aren't embracing their role as potential spoilers, if only because it's the only meaningful role they can play now. Here's Cody Ross, via the AP:

''With the Yankees in town, they're battling for a (playoff) spot and at this point we can just go out and try to play spoiler,'' left fielder Cody Ross said. ''We don't care who we play. We just want to win.''

Of course, last night's loss stings all the more for the Yankees because in recent weeks, the Red Sox had been doing a terrible job of playing spoiler. A couple of weeks back, they lost six straight games to the Angels and A's, both of whom are in the playoff hunt. They were also swept by the Angels earlier in August, right after losing consecutive series to the Orioles and Yankees. They'd lost eleven of twelve overall entering last night's game. And yes, last night's starter, Jon Lester, had been pitching okay over his last five starts (4-1, 3.44 ERA), but the Yankees had the reliable Kuroda on the mound last night. It's the kind of close game the Yankees can't afford to lose, and thanks to Baltimore's rout of the Rays last night, they're once again in a tie for first in the American League East. David Phelps starts tonight against Aaron Cook in Boston, while Miguel Gonzalez pitches for Baltimore against Tampa Bay's Alex Cobb at Camden Yards.

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Photo: Jared Wickerham/Getty Images