Russell Martin has become a fan favorite in his first season with the Yankees. He might be even more of one after what he said Thursday night:

"I hate the Red Sox."

With the Yankees' bitterest rivals coming to the Bronx for the opener of a three-game series Friday night, Martin was asked a routine question about whether he would like to help usher the reeling Red Sox out of playoff contention.

"Anything to get the Red Sox out would be awesome for me,'' he said. "They're coming up next, so it will be fun."

When asked why, he used the "H'' word -- a word you don't hear often in the Yankees' buttoned-down clubhouse.

"They are fun to play against because they have a quality team and they're gritty and they play hard and stuff, but I would love to see them lose,'' Martin said. "I guess it just comes with the territory. When you wear the pinstripes, you just kind of learn to be that way, I guess.''

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The Yankees actually helped the Red Sox this week by beating the Rays three straight times before Tampa Bay rebounded with a 15-8 victory over the Yankees Thursday night. Wild-card leader Boston is two games ahead of the Rays and three games ahead of the Angels with six to play.

"I don't hate the Rays," Martin said. "I don't hate the Angels, either."

The Red Sox, who led the Rays by nine games and the Angels by 91/2 games Sept. 3 before losing 14 of 18, were off Thursday night. The Yankees, fresh off clinching the AL East crown Wednesday night, had to play a makeup game against the Rays. They started a few regulars -- Derek Jeter, Nick Swisher and DH Mark Teixeira -- but hardly trotted out a pennant race-worthy lineup.

The Rays battered Bartolo Colon for seven runs (five earned) in three innings. Jeter made a pair of errors, including an overthrow of first base that went all the way to the photographers' box in front of the box seats. He was out of the game after 3½ innings with the Yankees trailing 12-0. Swisher was gone by then, too. Teixeira gave way to a pinch hitter in the sixth.

Despite the Yankees' loss, their magic numbers to clinch home-field advantage in the American League playoffs were reduced to two against Detroit and one against Texas.

"Obviously, our goal is to get home-field advantage," manager Joe Girardi said. "The important thing to me about some of these lineups is that we take care of our guys and have them ready to play next Friday. So I'll rotate some days off with some guys and give them a little rest. I want them sharp and we want home-field advantage."

Girardi, who has been involved in his share of battles with the Red Sox as a Yankees player and manager, seemed bemused by Martin's comments.

"Hate's a strong word," he said. "I don't ever like to fuel anything. Boys will be boys."

The Red Sox might use Martin's words as motivation. But there's probably so much panic in the streets of Boston right now that it could go unnoticed.

But it's not only this weekend. Imagine if the Yankees and Red Sox meet in the ALCS. As if The Rivalry needs more fire.

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"They have given us a hard time all year, but I don't think we are scared of them or anything,'' Martin said. "We'll see what happens. If we play them, we play them. We just have to beat 'em.''