No team in the American League had more of a home-field advantage this season than the Boston Red Sox.
The Red Sox went 53-28 at Fenway Park, the best home record in the league. And they won their first home game of the AL division series against the Tampa Bay Rays 12-2 on Friday, thanks in part to Fenway's quirks and odd configuration.
In a five-run fourth inning that turned a two-run deficit into a three-run lead, Will Middlebrooks' line drive took a strange hop off the Green Monster standings posted on the scoreboard. That allowed Stephen Drew to score and may have helped Middlebrooks make it to second base.
"You've got so many different angles," Boston manager John Farrell said. "You get team plates. You've got different things that are hanging on that, so there's going to be a lot of potential caroms that are going to be inconsistent."
Farrell said the team practices taking balls off the wall every day. But one can never really anticipate all the different ways a ball can fly when it hits a hook or ladder or ad that on the 37-foot-high Green Monster.
Plus, there are an assortment of surfaces, producing differing ricochets.
"It's a matter of getting comfortable with the space that an outfielder plays with it out there," Farrell said. "Whether it's Jonny Gomes, (Daniel) Nava or (Mike) Carp, there's daily work that goes on there. Part of why it's home-field advantage."
Rays left fielder Sean Rodriguez struggled all game playing the carom off the Wall. But the Rays' biggest problem in the fourth couldn't really be blamed on Fenway. Right fielder Wil Myers went back to catch David Ortiz's popup in front of the Red Sox bullpen, but he backed off at the last minute when he saw center fielder Desmond Jennings in the corner of his eye.
It first looked like one of the Boston relievers might have called for it to confuse the fielders, but Myers said that's not what happened.
"No, no, no. There's no chicanery by the Red Sox," Rays manager Joe Maddon said, adding: "Although I would not put it past them."
TRAVEL TIME: Neither the Oakland Athletics nor the Detroit Tigers planned workouts for Sunday at Comerica Park given the overnight travel challenges awaiting them.
Game 2 of the AL division series was set for Saturday night in Oakland. Game 3 was Monday afternoon in Motown.
The A's were scheduled to land in Detroit sometime around 6 a.m. EDT on Sunday, depending on how long Game 2 took.
Oakland manager Bob Melvin will alter his club's typical pregame routine for a day game by taking batting practice Monday at Comerica.
"It's an interesting turnaround, it's one that's unique," Melvin said. "But there's not a problem with adrenaline in the postseason. We usually don't hit before day games, we hit in the cage and don't usually hit on the field, but this is one you do have to hit on the field to get used to the conditions on the field."
NOT-SO-CLOSE CALLS: For two teams so evenly matched, the Pittsburgh Pirates and St. Louis Cardinals don't play a ton of tight games.
Only five of the 21 games between the two NL Central rivals this season have been decided by two runs or less. Instead, 13 have resulted in margins of five runs or more, including a 9-1 win for St. Louis in Game 1 of the NL division series and a 7-1 romp for the Pirates in Game 2.
St. Louis manager Mike Matheny pointed out the teams went into extras a couple of times, including a 14-inning marathon at Busch Stadium in August. Matheny figures it's the drive in each team that has led to the unusually high number of blowouts.
"Even the other day when we had the lead, we wanted to keep the throttle down and know that that team would keep coming," Matheny said. "And I know, I sense in their dugout they believe the same thing. Our offenses both have the ability to explode, which makes any game a close game."
BYRD IS THE WORD: The Pirates were hoping for a key bat and a veteran presence when they acquired well-traveled outfielder Marlon Byrd just before the waiver deadline in August. The 36-year-old has proven to be even better than advertised.
Byrd hit .318 with three homers and 18 RBIs in 30 games for the Pirates and has kept it going in the playoffs. He hit a home run in the wild-card win over Cincinnati and scored twice in Game 2 of the NL division series against St. Louis.
"This guy has thrown aces all over the table," Pittsburgh manager Clint Hurdle said. "Clubhouse demeanor, the game edge, the quality at-bats, the ability to defend in right field, modeling the behavior you're looking to see late in the season at the plate, in the batter's box. Young players get to see it."
"Both he and (Justin) Morneau were able to do it. For a guy with no playoff experience, you would think he has a bunch," he said.
Byrd's play has been so steady he's forced Jose Tabata and Garrett Jones to the bench. Tabata filled in capably in left field when Starling Marte was injured down the stretch and Jones hit .321 with three home runs and 10 RBIs in 17 games against St. Louis this season.
AS IT WAS: Count Oakland center fielder Coco Crisp among those who is happy to be back to the traditional 2-2-1 format — two home games for the higher seed, two road games and then a potential Game 5 back in the home ballpark.
Last year, the higher-seeded Athletics lost their first two games to the Tigers on the road at Comerica Park, returned home to the take the next two contests at the Coliseum and then lost Game 5 in front of the Oakland fans.
That 2-3 system was an effort to keep the postseason moving and condense travel and off-days.
"You get to come back home, especially if you have home-field advantage to start with," Crisp said. "I like it better. Last year with the 2-3 it was a little different."