Little Trop of horrors
Red Sox need to find a way to win inside domed stadium
ST. PETERSBURG -- Back under the white roof and the quirky catwalks, the Red Sox have another chance to figure out Tropicana Field. This time, the reward for doing so could be a trip to the World Series.
There was a time -- as in almost every year before this season -- that the Red Sox, backed by thousands of New England transplants or vacationers in the stands, used to manhandle the Rays in the Trop.
But this year, the Rays handled the Red Sox to the tune of eight wins in nine games.
It wasn't until September -- after six losses in a row -- that Boston finally found a way to win at Tropicana Field.
In other words, with the Rays holding the "dome-field advantage" in this American League Championship Series, the Red Sox must figure out a way to win a road game or two.
What can Boston do to reverse its woes in St. Petersburg?
"I think just stop their momentum," said Red Sox second baseman Dustin Pedroia. "When they get something going, their crowd gets involved and this place gets loud. You can't hear, you can't communicate defensively. We've got to find a way to stop their momentum. I think both teams feed off their crowd. Their crowd has been awesome all year. You can't hear anything, they've got those cowbells going on."
But the Red Sox have no time for cowbell distractions. They need to defy the unfavorable elements and find a way to win.
House of Horrors
The quest starts with Friday night's Game 1, when Daisuke Matsuzaka faces James Shields. One positive thing about that matchup is that Matsuzaka is the one Boston pitcher who did win at Tropicana Field in 2008, allowing one run over five innings on Sept. 15.
And strong performances by Matsuzaka and Game 2 starter Josh Beckett would seem to be the key to neutralizing the Rays' comfort factor at home.
"We just need to play our best, man," said Red Sox slugger David Ortiz. "If our pitching puts it together, I think we'll take care of the rest."
Why couldn't they handle the Rays on the road during the regular season?
"I think that home-field advantage sometimes takes over," said Ortiz. "I think that's what's been happening. If you get to the end of the game tied or down by one run, they can drive you crazy. Back home, we can do the same thing."
That whole big brother-little brother thing that used to go on with the Sox and Rays is not even on the periphery in this series, even with the continued disparity in payroll.
"Those kids, they know how to play with anybody," Ortiz said.
Boston can very much relate to Tampa Bay's home-field advantage. For the Rays (57-24) were the only team in the Majors to have a better home record than the Red Sox (56-25).
"I don't know if it's the dome as much it's their home field," said Red Sox cleanup man Kevin Youkilis. "I think everybody is more comfortable on their home field, staying with their families, staying in their own beds."
Despite their disappointing record at Tropicana Field this season, the place is kind of a home away from home for the Red Sox.
"We're so used to playing here," said Youkilis. "You play 18 games against the same team, so that's nine or 10 games here. We know how to win on the road. We're going to have to win on the road to advance in the playoffs."
During Boston's last visit to Tropicana Field, Ortiz hit a moonshot into the catwalk that never landed.
"I like it," said Ortiz. "I like this field. I like hitting here. The ball seems like it goes a long way."
And it's not as if the Rays obliterated the Red Sox during the nine meetings in St. Pete.
Five of Boston's eight losses were by one run. Three times, Tampa Bay walked off with a win.
"It's all new," said Pedroia. "We have to get ready and put our game plan together. That's it. Just like we're not jumping up and down because we beat the Angels, we're not hanging our heads about how we played here during the year. That stuff is over with. We have to play well here. We haven't all year."
But a reversal of that trend could mean the ultimate reward for a team that is trying to defend its World Series championship.
Ian Browne is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.