BOSTON — Any talk of rematches and raised stakes was dismissed by the Red Sox on Friday.
This is a different year against the Astros. It’s later in the postseason than their 2017 meeting. Key pieces have changed in each clubhouse.
But to ignore the fact that Boston was swatted aside by Houston on its march to a World Series title last season would be a failure to grasp the obvious. The road to an American League pennant and a berth opposite Milwaukee or Los Angeles in the World Series later this month runs through the heart of Texas and against arguably the most complete team in baseball.
“Obviously the winner of this one goes to the World Series,” Red Sox Game 1 starter Chris Sale said. “Like I’ve been saying the whole time, just keep playing the same game. Not trying to reach for more; not trying to be better than I am.”
Sale and his mates can’t be blamed if they’re not eager to reminisce. The left-hander was tagged by the Astros for seven earned runs in Game 1 of last year’s A.L. Division Series, setting a rancid tone. Sale also took the loss in relief in Game 4 as Boston was eliminated.
The Red Sox washed out some of that bad taste in their mouths over two nights at Yankee Stadium this week. Boston flexed its muscles in a 16-1 throttling in Game 3 and held on tight in a 4-3 thriller in Game 4, advancing out of the ALDS for the first time in three seasons. It represented progress for a Red Sox group that returned several familiar faces.
“Obviously, we got that monkey off our back as far as getting out of the first round,” outfielder Mookie Betts said. “So we can be excited about that.”
Betts didn’t drive in a run in four games against Houston last season despite going 5-for-16 in the series. Xander Bogaerts was 1-for-17, homering for his lone hit. An injured Dustin Pedroia was just 2-for-16, the last in a trio of Boston stars who failed to fire.
The long offseason that followed brought with it some reinforcements both on and off the field. The Red Sox signed J.D. Martinez to a five-year deal in free agency, and all the slugger did was set a franchise home run record by a first-year player with 43. John Farrell was fired and Alex Cora was brought in from his previous role as Houston’s bench coach to serve as Boston’s 47th manager.
“They had a great team last year,” said Martinez, who finished his 2017 campaign with Arizona. “That was one of the drawing points to come here and just help out as much as I can.”
“Coming into this situation, I knew it was a good group,” Cora said on Thursday. “Talking to them in November and December, we talked about things that we were going to do to stay together and attack 162 games and the playoffs.”