BOSTON — Tonight begins another strange chapter in one of the strangest seasons in recent Red Sox history.

Tonight, as Press Herald columnist Kevin Thomas noted Monday, you should be cheering for the New York Yankees.

That’s right, the Yankees. For most of the next week, Red Sox Nation and Yankee Universe will be aligned as one in a strange tilt of the cosmic axis.

The two warring factions are allied against a mutual enemy. Beginning tonight, the hard-charging Tampa Bay Rays will play seven games in nine days against the New Yorkers.

After taking 3 of 4 from Boston over the weekend, the Rays left for Gotham just two games out in the AL wild-card race.

Joe Maddon, philosopher-king of the Rays, has pushed all the right buttons in guiding his team to what could be the first winning September record in franchise history. He has a young team believing in itself, believing it can become the fifth team in history to make the post-season after being six games out in September.

The Rays got back into the race by winning 6 of 7 games against the Sox this month. They’ve won 8 of 9 against Boston going back into August. If they do anything close to that against the Yankees, they might just complete their stunning stretch run.

Tampa Bay has done it on the cheap. The team’s 2011 payroll is just $42.1 million. John Lackey, Carl Crawford and J.D. Drew cost the Red Sox $46 million this year.

By the end of Sunday’s 8-5 Rays win at Fenway, the Sox looked like a defeated team. They committed six errors in the four-game series, and looked uninspired. Players dressed quickly and left the clubhouse as fast as they could. While Maddon held court in the visitor’s clubhouse explaining how his team was energized by the crowd at Fenway, Red Sox Manager Terry Francona was choosing his words carefully.

“We’ve got to figure out a way to turn it around,” said Francona. “I guess I choose to believe, knowing the guys down in the clubhouse like I do, that we’ll meet this challenge and it will make us stronger. I guess that’s our best way to go about this.”

Francona was quick to stress that the Sox still led the wild-card race, but it sure didn’t feel that way. Now they’re stuck trying to slug it out against an Orioles team that is trying to be a spoiler after winning 2 of 3 against the contending Rays and Angels last week. O’s Manager Buck Showalter has no love for the Red Sox organization, and he would enjoy nothing more than to help send it to the golf course.

Meantime, the Rays and Yankees open their four-game series tonight in New York. They’ll play a doubleheader Wednesday and one more on Thursday. They’ll finish their season series starting next Monday at Tropicana Field.

If you’re a Sox fan, you’d love the Yankees to win each of those series. If they do, the Sox could make the playoffs by going .500 over the last 10 games.

Of course, .500 doesn’t sound that easy right now. Not unless this team can figure out a way to get back to the way it played in July and August. Even the mighty Yankees can help them do that.

Tom Caron is the studio host for Red Sox broadcasts on the New England Sports Network. His column appears in the Press Herald on Tuesdays.