BOSTON -- The baseball-crazed city of Boston felt a little lost when Fenway Park was shut down for business the last three postseasons. So you can expect a certifiable buzz in the air when the Red Sox open their American League Division Series against the Tampa Bay Rays on Friday (3 p.m. ET, TBS) at Fenway Park.
As exhilarating as the regular season was for the Red Sox, who reeled off 97 wins for their first division title since 2007, they know that the postseason is a whole new chapter.
"We're real excited," said Jonny Gomes. "One hundred sixty-two games and six months is not even an appetizer for what is about to happen."
In the postseason, every pitch becomes magnified. Every situation becomes important.
Here are three keys for the Red Sox to win this best-of-five series against a division foe.
Starters go deep, hand off to Koji
Red Sox pitching coach Juan Nieves doesn't tell his starters to give them six or seven quality innings. He challenges them to try to go eight. Though that doesn't always happen, it is a goal to reach for.
All season long, Boston has been at its best when the starting pitcher can go as deep as possible, shortening the bridge to dominant closer Koji Uehara. If the Red Sox have a question mark going into this series, it is their setup crew.
From Jon Lester to John Lackey to Clay Buchholz to Jake Peavy, the Red Sox have battle-tested veterans who enjoy the big moments. Now, Uehara will try to prove he can handle October as well as he did April-September.
Grind out Rays starters
Unlike Uehara, Tampa Bay closer Fernando Rodney hasn't had a dominant season. Therefore, the earlier the Red Sox can get to the Rays' starting pitchers, the more it weakens them.
All year long, the Red Sox have been relentless at the plate, not depending on any one here. Instead, they've gotten contributions throughout the starting nine and the bench. If the lineup can stay balanced, the Rays will be forced to pitch to Dustin Pedroia, David Ortiz and Mike Napoli instead of working around them.
The need for speed
Back in 2008, when these teams last met in the postseason, the Rays could run all over the place. The Red Sox? They'd sit back and wait for the three-run homer.
But manager John Farrell promised an aggressive -- but smart -- running attack on the day he was hired and his team has lived up to it.
The Sox have stolen 123 bases this season while getting caught just 19 times. Jacoby Ellsbury is coming off a compression fracture in his right foot, so it will be interesting to see if he can still have the same impact on the bases. Shane Victorino and Dustin Pedroia are also threats to steal.
Farrell will also send surprising runners in motion, as evidenced by four steals each from Jarrod Saltalamacchia and Ortiz.