Slow to start, crowd turns it up notch during five-run fourth inning
BOSTON -- Before all the yelling, before the chanting of a 22-year-old's name, before the standing ovations and overwhelming, mind-numbing noise, the Red Sox had to do something to earn it.
It's no secret that this hasn't been the same crowd in 2013, when the Red Sox began seeing less-than-capacity attendance for the first time since 2003. The San Francisco Giants, having sold out 246 consecutive games since 2010, are the new proud owners of the longest active sellout streak in baseball. No longer the fullest stadium -- not even No. 2; that belongs to Busch Stadium in St. Louis -- Fenway Park had its attendance slip to 94.2 percent capacity during the regular season.
At the start of Game 1 of the American League Division Series between the Red Sox and Rays, eventually a 12-2 win for Boston, there were entire rows of empty seats, from the bleachers to the first-base box.
The fans no longer appear eager to cheer a losing team. When the Red Sox fell behind -- they had yet to collect a hit through three innings -- there was so little noise that the sound of beer vendors could be heard sections away.
"Took the crowd out of it a little bit," said first baseman Mike Napoli.
Then Dustin Pedroia smacked a base hit -- the team's first -- in the top of the fourth. Suddenly, noise.
So much noise that Rays rookie right fielder Wil Myers was unsure if center fielder Desmond Jennings called him off a David Ortiz fly ball on the very next at-bat.
With fans yelling and Jennings approaching, Myers assumed it was the center fielder's ball and moved at the last second. Ortiz's hit bounced over the bullpen wall for a ground-rule double.
"The reason why was it was a loud crowd," Myers said. "I didn't hear anything but the crowd yelling."
The rest of the game, chants of, "My-ers, My-ers" shrieked through the park.
"The crowd was definitely into it," said Red Sox right fielder Shane Victorino. "That inning right there, I feel bad for Wil a little bit. That's the type of stuff, as an opposing player, I don't want a whole section of the stands chanting my name, … The Fenway crowd definitely played into it and having them playing at home, it was nice."
Will Middlebrooks knew something was different Friday when he was perched inside the dugout and could still hear the sound of voices coming from fans nearby.
"What impressed me," Middlebrooks said afterward, "is you see a guy strike out, you can hear people over the dugout, 'You'll get them next time.' You can hear it over the dugout. That's pretty cool."
Home-field advantage? Check.
Part 2 of the Fenway edge came thanks to the Green Monster in left field, which the Red Sox hit four times during the game, scoring five runs in the process.
When Middlebrooks smacked a double in the fourth, left fielder Sean Rodriguez misplayed the bounce, allowing Stephen Drew to score from first.
"It's called a Monster for a reason, right?" Rodriguez said.
John McDonald, a 15-year veteran who is not on the active roster but traveling with the team in case of emergency, has been impressed at how well the Red Sox outfielders have learned to play the wall.
"Home players, you're on it every day," McDonald said. "They've perfected it. There's definitely an art to it. You have an idea where it's going to go. You see it an awfully lot more. The more you can get out there playing, the better off you're going to be. Unfortunately for visiting players, they can't get on it enough."
The Red Sox went 53-28 at home this season. Middlebrooks compares the advantage to playing a golf course over and over.
"It's playing the course here," Middlebrooks said. "Down the right-field line, or over on the wall -- what we like to call Satan's Corner over there in left -- that ball can bounce all over the place. If you're not used to it, that can play a big factor."
It did on Friday. It could again for Game 2 on Saturday (5:30 ET on TBS).
The Wall is their advantage. So too was the sell-out crowd of 38,177 -- even if some arrived late.
The Red Sox may to have to earn their support now, but it's ready on cue. And it might be better than ever.
"Completely different than the regular season," Middlebrooks said. "I was like, 'This place is crazy in the regular season, it can't be too different.' But it erupted out there tonight."