Hey, New York: Root for the Rays!

NEW YORK -- You have to believe most New York Yankees fans are on board.

Of course, they never want to see their beloved Yankees lose a game, especially not three in a row right before the playoffs start.

But if it would help knock the hated Boston Red Sox out of the playoffs, you get the feeling the Yankees' fan base would be fine with it, if not absolutely thrilled.

On Sunday night, the Red Sox had a chance to officially blow a nine-game wild-card lead. A Boston loss in the second game of a day-night doubleheader would have allowed the Tampa Bay Rays to tie it up.

But despite jumping out to a 3-0 lead, the Yankees couldn't finish off a sweep of the Red Sox. Boston, on Jacoby Ellsbury's two-out, three-run homer, scored a 14-inning 7-4 victory over the Yankees at the Stadium.

The Yankees (97-62) have already captured the best record in the American League and home-field advantage through the first two rounds of the postseason. They will finish the regular season with a three-game set against the Rays beginning Monday night in St. Pete.

For sure, the Yankees wouldn't throw a game or just lay down. You don't become the winningest sports franchise in America by doing that. But you might see some lineups filled with young players. The Philadelphia Phillies did that -- kind of -- during the eight-game slide that they snapped against the New York Mets on Sunday afternoon.

The Yankees, of course, would never say publicly that they want to lose games if it hurts Boston. But it's only human to want your archrival to underachieve. Keeping them down is always a good thing. Fans at the Stadium were warm to the idea.

"I'd love them to be out of it,'' said Yankees fan Kevin Mullen, of Manhattan, about the Red Sox. "As long as it's not at the risk of throwing games. I don't want them to throw games. But I wouldn't be upset if they played and just happened to lose. And if it means Boston is out, I'd be jumping for joy.''

It would only be fitting, since the Red Sox owned the Yankees when the season started, winning eight of the first nine meetings. In all, the Red Sox won the season series 12-6.

Before the season started, it was all about the Red Sox. Experts were singing their praises, especially after they landed Adrian Gonzalez in a big trade and signed Carl Crawford in free agency.

Most predictions were this: The Red Sox were winning the American League East -- for sure. And the Yankees weren't even considered a shoo-in for the wild-card spot.

Yet it was the Yankees who captured the top spot.

On Sept. 2, the Red Sox had a nine-game lead over the Rays. Tampa Bay was considered dead and the Red Sox were postseason-bound. But September has been a free fall for Boston, with some of the worst pitching ever seen down the stretch. Coming into the second game on Sunday, Boston starters had a plump 7.32 ERA this month.

Meanwhile, it's been a September to remember for Yankees fans. The Yanks -- who were the first AL team to reach 95 victories -- have been on a roll. They have won six of their last eight.

Some have suggested that it would be better for the Yankees to have the Red Sox, not the Rays, make it in. Not true. It would be different if the Yankees were going to play one of those teams in the ALDS, but they can't play a division rival in the first round.

If that was case, the Red Sox are clearly the weaker team with all their current woes. But ultimately, you shouldn't fear any team. To get to the World Series, you have to beat two good teams.

Despite Boston's win on Sunday night, many fans are still hoping it's a postseason minus the Red Sox. "I would be so cool with that,'' said Yankees fan Ryan Judd of Bristol, Conn. "I hate the Red Sox so much.''

There's one way to make it happen. Root for the Rays!