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Young Red Sox core better prepared this time

Betts, Bradley, Benintendi hungry for playoff success
MLB.com @mi_guardado

HOUSTON -- One year ago, Red Sox outfielder Mookie Betts got his first taste of the heightened pressure of the postseason during his first career playoff at-bat in the first inning of Game 1 of the American League Division Series against the Indians at Progressive Field.

Betts faced Cleveland right-hander Trevor Bauer with runners on the corners, no outs and a chance to put Boston on the board. He got ahead, 2-0, before going down swinging on three straight fastballs from Bauer. It was an ominous start to the series for Betts, who struck out for the first time in 78 plate appearances.

HOUSTON -- One year ago, Red Sox outfielder Mookie Betts got his first taste of the heightened pressure of the postseason during his first career playoff at-bat in the first inning of Game 1 of the American League Division Series against the Indians at Progressive Field.

Betts faced Cleveland right-hander Trevor Bauer with runners on the corners, no outs and a chance to put Boston on the board. He got ahead, 2-0, before going down swinging on three straight fastballs from Bauer. It was an ominous start to the series for Betts, who struck out for the first time in 78 plate appearances.

"It was a pretty big plate appearance," Betts said. "I just remember I put so much pressure on myself."

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Betts was one of five Red Sox starters to make their postseason debuts last fall, and that inexperience seemed to show as they were swept in three games by the Indians, cutting short Boston's first playoff appearance in three years. But the Red Sox believe that brief postseason exposure will help their young core better handle the pressure this year, when they take on the Astros in the ALDS presented by Doosan, which starts Thursday at Minute Maid Park.

"They have matured," manager John Farrell said. "They continue to evolve in their own right. I think as a group, too. Last year, we went into the postseason, this was a first, and there was a lot of questions that stemmed from that first experience. Because they lived it, some of those questions they have answered through their own successes or challenges. This is a full year of experience and some postseason, limited as it was, under their belt, they're that much more prepared."

Against the Indians, Betts -- who finished second in the AL MVP Award voting last season -- went 2-for-10, while Jackie Bradley Jr. went 1-for-10 with seven strikeouts. However, fellow postseason newcomer Andrew Benintendi finished 3-for-9 with a home run and two RBIs.

"I don't think it was overwhelming at all," Benintendi said. "I think it's the same game. I think we're ready as a team. It's baseball. Hopefully things are different this year."

Betts said he took away a key lesson from last year's disappointment, one he hopes will help yield better results his second time through the postseason.

"I just need to relax and be who I am," Betts said. "It's the same game. Don't make it what it's not. Like I said, just go out and have fun and enjoy the moment."

Maria Guardado covers the Angels for MLB.com.

This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

Boston Red Sox, Mookie Betts