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The Red Sox have home-field advantage. Does it matter?

Rob Bradford
September 25, 2018 - 7:56 am

While the Red Sox breaking their organization's record for most wins in a season was certainly something, it was just one of two takeaways from the Monday night win over the Orioles. And the second one is actually something that might matter the most.

The Sox have clinched home-field advantage throughout the postseason, including the World Series. (Yes, thankfully the fraudulent All-Star Game payoff is a thing of the past.) Each and every round Alex Cora's team will play in is going to start at Fenway Park, and end there if a decisive Game 5 or Game 7 is needed.

"I know how it gets here in the playoffs. I know how tough it is to come here," Cora said after his team's 6-2 win over the Orioles. "It's not a comfortable place to come and play. It's always good -- it doesn't guarantee you you're going to win the World Series, but having the last games of series is very important. I saw it last year firsthand, how loud it can get here. I played here, too, in '07, and the playoffs in '08. It's a special place, but it's a tough place for the visitors to come." (For a complete recap of the Red Sox' 106th win, click here.)

But in baseball, does it really matter?

A quick survey around the Red Sox' clubhouse suggests that it actually does.

"When the crowd gets into it you can almost see the look on the other team’s face when something big is going to happen. It’s a game-changer," said Steve Pearce, who was forced to start on the road in two postseason series while playing for the Orioles in 2014.

"When we were in Detroit we felt it. They started to get a rally going in the ninth inning and the place started to get loud and we’re like, ‘Uh oh.’ They had the middle of their lineup coming up and it felt like a sleeping giant had been awoken. You could feel it. It’s a big part of the game. Physically. Mentally. You don’t want to be on the receiving end of fans getting on you. It’s a big part of the game."

"One hundred percent," J.D. Martinez said in August on the matter. "If it didn’t change there wouldn’t be any home field advantage. It’s the same thing (as the other professional sports). The stadium is still 100 yards. The basket is still there. The field goal posts are the same. Everything is the same. The difference is the atmosphere which changes everything.

"If you go to a playoff game in Fenway and you walk in, and you walk into a regular season game is it not different? Pitchers aren’t different. You get to the atmosphere is different. That changes everything. Home-court advantage in baseball or football, what’s different? Nothing changes (on the field) but the atmosphere changes."

The consensus is that where the dynamic truly comes into play is when you have a team made up of a bunch of postseason newbies.

That was certainly the case when the first pitch was thrown at Progressive Field during the Red Sox' series against the Indians in 2016. Swings were late. Pitchers' pace was slow. There seemed to be a tangible effect on the actual performance of a somewhat wide-eyed Red Sox team.

It worked against the Red Sox in Cleveland, and when the Indians jumped out early in Game 3 it took more than half the game for the Fenway Park crowd to offer any sort of impact. But when a rally did start, and the Sox' fans woke up, the Indians certainly appeared like a team sweating it out while stumbling to the finish line.

"Home-field advantage is big especially if you don’t have a lot of guys on your team that have playoff experience," said Red Sox reliever Joe Kelly. For young guys the first couple of times in the playoffs home-field advantage is key. I think it matters a lot."

"It matters. With our fans, I’m sure it’s going to make a difference," said Mookie Betts. "You have to have a different mindset. Even at home. We can feed off of momentum and what not but you have to go out and play and try not to worry about the fans so much, going up and down with how the fans are. Having done it twice I should be able to better weather the storm this year."

Some are able to tune out the crowd, downplaying the on-field benefits. But that doesn't mean there isn't a payoff.

"I don’t think it impacts the game," said Andrew Benintendi. "When it’s loud like last year in Houston it wasn’t intimidating. It was just loud. It didn’t scare us or anything like. I guess the only advantage is you get to stay in your own house. Staying in your own place is a big deal."

For what it's worth, seven of the last eight World Series have started with the home team winning Game 1. Coincidence? More than a few don't think so.

Related: One columnist wants Alex Cora to become Mets GM