BOSTON -- The playoff gear was out in full force for the Red Sox on Tuesday, and it set the tone for what is ahead. The T-shirts included the message "October Ready," while the pullovers read "Do Damage."
With three days to go before the Sox host either the Yankees or Athletics for Game 1 of the American League Division Series on Friday night, the vibe feels decidedly different around the AL East champions than it did the past two years.
So what is different from the teams that went a collective 1-6 in the Division Series against the Indians and Astros the past two postseasons?
Home, sweet home
For starters, the Red Sox don't have to pack their suitcases for a few more days.
:: ALDS schedule and results ::
"It feels good to be able to start here," said Jackie Bradley Jr. "For instance, we don't have to travel anywhere. We're already here, and we'll have some time to prepare and recuperate. It's going to be a good test."
In 2016 and '17, the team was in an 0-2 hole before setting foot at Fenway Park for a postseason game. This time, they are assured of having home-field advantage for every round as a reward for holding the best record in the Majors (108-54), not to mention the best in franchise history.
Boston's 57-24 mark at Fenway was the best home record in MLB.
"It's big, sleeping in your own bed and coming in here to play, and we obviously play here the most," said left fielder Andrew Benintendi. "And hopefully, the atmosphere will be good, and it will be exciting."
"I think our fan base is definitely huge," said right fielder Mookie Betts.
Fenway is a loud place in October. The past two times the Red Sox held home-field advantage for the entirety of the postseason were 2007 and '13. You might recall that both of those seasons ended in a parade. Current manager Alex Cora was part of that '07 championship. He was also the bench coach for the Houston team that had home field while taking out the Red Sox in four games in last year's ALDS.
"I love it. I love it here," said Cora. "The atmosphere should be loud and fun, and we'll take advantage of it."
Another big difference that separates the 2018 team from its '16 and '17 predecessors is the fact that the players actually have postseason experience to draw on now.
For Betts, Benintendi, Bradley and others, it was all new the past couple of years.
"Use that as motivation to get to the World Series," said Betts. "Get past the first round first, and go out and play with intensity from pitch one and get a couple of wins here."
Betts mentioned intensity a number of times. He thinks the Red Sox came out too lackadaisically the past two Octobers, and by the time they were ready to seize the moment, it was too late.
"Just think better urgency, and that will be our mindset from pitch one and treat each pitch like it's your last," Betts said. "I think it's very important to set the tone. It's something we haven't done the last couple of years and something we hope to do this year."
Backed by its 108 wins, this team has established a belief that it can overcome any situation that could develop in a given game.
"There's going to be ups and downs and momentum shifts, and everything is kind of big in the playoffs," Benintendi said. "So if it goes down for us at some point, just weather the storm and realize what kind of team we have and what it takes to come back."
Impact of Alex
With all due respect to John Farrell, who guided the Red Sox to a championship in 2013, the club has a different swagger under Cora.
Back in Spring Training, Cora told his players how good they are. He instructed them to embrace it and told them not to be afraid to talk about the World Series.
"We hold high expectations for ourselves, and nothing else matters," said Benintendi. "We're going to go out there and play hard and hopefully make a deep run, and [I] hope we win the World Series."
Cora has presided all year over a clubhouse that is somehow equal parts loose and determined, and it felt the same on Tuesday.
"I think pressure is self-inflicted," said Bradley. "I think it's all on how you view it, how you look at it and what you base things off of. I think we're just going to enjoy the moment and enjoy each other and compete, like we have all year."
The foundation has been set for October success. Now the Red Sox just have to go out and do it.