Sox energized by rabid Fenway Park crowd

October 18th, 2021

BOSTON -- The game hadn’t even started and the Fenway faithful were already on their feet. Nathan Eovaldi was warming in the bullpen ahead of his start in the American League Wild Card Game against the Yankees on Oct. 5.

Moments later, Eovaldi fired his first pitch of the night: A 98.8 mph fastball that Anthony Rizzo hit sharply to first baseman Bobby Dalbec for the first out. The crowd of 38,324 erupted into cheer, only stopping eight innings later after the Red Sox defeated the Yankees to advance to the AL Division Series.

“Crowd was unbelievable,” Eovaldi said after Boston’s Wild Card Game win. “Walking out onto the field just to warm up, they were getting going and they were fired up. We had the introductions, and we had all the little videos and everything on the scoreboard. They were locked in from the first pitch on and feeding off that.”

Fenway Park has long had a reputation in October: It’s loud, it’s full and it’s relentless. And the 2021 postseason has been no different, with sellout crowds in all three of Boston’s home games thus far. Undefeated at Fenway in the '21 postseason, the Red Sox are now preparing to host the Astros on Monday for Game 3 of the AL Championship Series.

“I think tomorrow is going to be fun,” manager Alex Cora said. “It's been great the last three here, the Wild Card Game and the two against Tampa. You feel it around the city. People are into it. They are.”

Though Boston’s home ballpark has always been a lively host in postseasons past, this year has rivaled some of its loudest. After a season with no fans due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Fenway Park opened the season at 12 percent capacity with just 4,452 fans on Opening Day.

On May 10, the park opened up to 25 percent. When Boston sports venues were permitted to open at full capacity on May 29, the Red Sox were hosting the Marlins. In the seventh inning, Adam Ottavino escaped a bases-loaded jam with back-to-back strikeouts. The reliever pounded his chest to the tune of 25,089 fans breathing life back into the park.

“Difference from '18 to now? I don't see that much difference because it's [the] postseason, you know? I will say just how crazy the people will be every time we play here,” said Eduardo Rodriguez, who was named the ALCS Game 3 starter. “And home-field advantage, you always have to have that when you play in the postseason.

“It's amazing to play here and hear all our fans cheering for us over here. It's perfect. That's the atmosphere we want, especially as a starting pitcher. You go out there, and everybody is cheering for you. Every time you throw a strike or strike out somebody, that's a feeling that I love to hear every time out there on the mound.”

Rodriguez seemed to feed off the Fenway energy in Game 4 of the ALDS, giving up just two runs on three hits, with six strikeouts, in a five-inning outing -- the best start of his postseason career.

After splitting the first two games of the ALCS at a similarly energetic Minute Maid Park, the Red Sox now return to Fenway Park, where they went 49-32 during the regular season (compared to 43-38 on the road).

“Coming here, being at home, making the series best-out-of-five and hosting three, it makes us feel good,” Cora said. “But we still face one of the best teams in the big leagues. They're really good offensively on the road, and you saw it yesterday for how big of a lead it was. It was never comfortable with them.”

With the two-three-two format for the ALCS, the Red Sox have the chance to win the AL pennant in front of their faithful crowd this week.

“The guys, obviously, we build off the fan interaction and the noise, and we love it,” Hunter Renfroe said after Game 3 of the ALDS at Fenway. “It fired us up. This is why we come to the field. This is it.”