Tomase: Could this X-factor carry Red Sox to World Series? originally appeared on NBC Sports Boston
The Red Sox haven't even unleashed their greatest advantage in this American League Championship Series yet: You.
Of all the surprises during this unexpected run towards another World Series, the biggest might not be Kiké Hernández, destroyer of men, or a bullpen that keeps finding a way, but the return of an overwhelmingly hostile Fenway Park.
The Red Sox are 3-0 there this postseason, and it has already been the site of two eliminations -- the Yankees in the AL Wild Card Game and the Tampa Bay Rays in the Division Series.
They'll have a chance to make it three this week after annihilating the Astros 9-5 on Sunday with a barrage of grand slams that sent a message of, "Fear us." They return to Fenway Park on Monday for Games 3 through 5 with the series knotted at 1-1, and if they sweep at home, they'll be heading to their fifth World Series since 2004.
That may sound like a tall order against the 95-win Astros, but that's where the fans enter the equation. Manager Alex Cora has spoken all year of the importance of protecting their turf and giving the best fans in baseball a reason to be engaged.
How does a chance to send this team to the World Series without returning to Houston sound?
We've already seen what homefield advantage can mean this postseason. The electric atmosphere for the winner-take-all Wild Card Game vs. the Yankees felt like something out of 1978 or 1999 or 2004. It turned Cy Young candidate All-Star Gerrit Cole into a puddle; he listened to fans jeer his name and immediately surrendered a massive home run to Xander Bogaerts.
We saw what happened to Tampa's young pitchers when the crowd pumped up the volume in the ALDS. Rookie Drew Rasmussen lasted only two innings in Game 3, and rookie Luis Patiño served up the walk-off homer. After throwing five shutout innings in the comforts of Tampa in Game 1, rookie Shane McClanahan allowed five in relief in the decisive Game 4. He looked completely overwhelmed with each 100 mph missile.
The Astros are a different beast. They're as experienced as any team in the postseason. Their core won a World Series in 2017 and lost one in 2019. Jose Altuve, Carlos Correa, Alex Bregman, Yuli Gurriel -- there's nothing they haven't seen.
The pitching staff is another story, and here's where a raucous Fenway can swing the series.
Houston's starters aren't as young as Tampa's, but they aren't exactly battle-tested, especially with ace Lance McCullers sidelined by a sore forearm. Three-year vet Jose Urquidy had only made 12 lifetime starts entering this season. Game 1 starter Framber Valdez started as many games this year (23) as the rest of his career combined. It's not yet clear whom Houston would tab for Game 4, but if it's reliever Cristian Javier, he's only 24 and in his second season.
That's a group that was made to be destroyed by the intimidating crowds that have packed Fenway this October and remained standing from start to finish. The Astros may possess the game's best overall offense, but the Red Sox aren't afraid of a shootout. They basically hit as well as Houston, and they know how to ride the energy of their home crowd like no other team in baseball.
Before the final homestand of the regular season, Cora basically begged the fans to make a difference, and they obliged. With Boston now positioned to compete for one of the city's most unexpected championships of this insane two-decade run, the Red Sox could use a little help over the finish line.
That's where you come in. Pack the park, rattle some windows, and let's see where this journey ends.