A key to winning the World Series is the ability to win in the harsh environment of an opposing team's stadium. With an unfamiliar park and hostile fans heaping everything but praise on the road team, it can be a challenge at times — especially in baseball, when the home team gets last crack at victory.
Since the Red Sox have landed on the map as perennial World Series contenders, their road record is spotty at best. In the table to the right, Boston's home and road records since 2003 are outlined, as well as how their season ended.
|2003||53-28||42-39||2, CS (L7)|
|2004||55-26||43-38||2, WS (W4)|
|2005||54-27||41-40||2, DS (L3)|
|2007||51-30||45-36||1, WS (W4)|
|2008||56-25||39-42||2, CS (L7)|
|2009||56-25||39-42||2, DS (L3)|
In the "Finish" category, the first number is the place the Red Sox finished in the AL East during the regular season. Following the comma is the deepest round in the playoffs the team reached — if they made the playoffs: Division Series (DS), Championship Series (CS) or World Series (WS). Following that is whether the Red Sox won or lost that series and in how many games.
For starters, the Red Sox have won the World Series in years that a positive road record was achieved (2004, 2007) — and in fact, the World Series years represent the best road records the team has achieved in this time span. Secondly, in all postseason defeats, the clinching game was either lost on the road (2003, 2008) or in a five-game series that saw the opposing team win two games at home before moving to Boston (2005, 2009).
Clearly, the Red Sox enjoy their home cooking.
At home, the Red Sox get to work in familiar surroundings and with familiar people. While that undoubtedly plays a small part in home success, what's more important is knowing how to approach playing at Fenway Park.
Players at Fenway are able to get acclimated to having the Green Monster looming over them in left with Pesky's Pole just 302 feet away in right field. When taking aim toward left, right-handed hitters can focus more about getting the barrel of the bat on the ball and shooting it off the Monster rather than having to gear up for a bomb — especially as compared to pitcher's parks like San Diego.
Defense plays a factor, too. J.D. Drew, for example, can roam the outfield with confidence, knowing all the nooks and crannies. Road teams have to adjust to their temporary surroundings, and even some experienced left fielders can look downright silly trying to defeat the Monster.
Teams also structure their rosters to take advantage of the home park. The Yankees historically liked to load their lineup with left-handed hitters to take advantage of the short porch in right field. Now that the new Yankee Stadium, at least in its first year, has proven even kinder to lefties, that philosophy will not be changing.
Playing at home also gives you confidence, especially in Fenway where the fans are notorious for their unequivocal support for the hometown nine. At times, Boston fans seemed to act as a 10th man on the field.
With all these things working for the home team, it's no wonder that teams tend to win more games at home than on the road. It doesn't absolve teams from needing to win on the road, though.
The fact that the seasons that saw the Red Sox' two best road records from 2003-2009 ended up in World Series wins is no coincidence. Being able to go into another team's home and walk away victorious shows that the road team can slam the door in the bottom of the ninth effectively. It shows that the team can dispel any physical or psychological disadvantages thrown its way.
No one is doubting that the Red Sox have a talented club capable of winning on the road. However, it's clear that something has to change from the last two campaigns. Boston has now posted back-to-back seasons with 39-42 records on the road. If you throw out the Red Sox' 8-1 record at Baltimore's Camden Yards — aka Fenway South — that record falls to 31-41 in 2009. (The team went 5-4 in Baltimore in 2008.)
If the Red Sox want to win the World Series, they simply have to learn how to win on the road. If they can post the best record in the American League and see their league win the All-Star Game, then they gain home-field advantage and could win the World Series without needing to win a single road game in the postseason.
Too much would have to go right for those circumstances to line up, though. The Red Sox will just have to learn to become road warriors.
From now until Opening Day, NESN.com will run down 25 March
things that need to happen for the Red Sox to win the World Series.
18: Play some small ball — bunt, hit and run.