NEW YORK — The Red Sox had their resilience tested this season to the greatest extent in June when they fell two games out of first place following back-to-back losses at Minnesota.
They were back on top of the American League East six days later and moved into first place for good on July 2.
The 108-win Red Sox were such a strong team that all obstacles were quickly pushed aside. That little dip in June was all the adversity they encountered.
That’s what will make Games 3 and 4 of their Division Series against the Yankees so interesting. The Sox are in a corner despite the series being tied, 1-1.
They need to win one of the two road games to force a deciding Game 5 at Fenway Park on Thursday. Or the Sox could further validate a record-setting regular season by eliminating their rivals at Yankee Stadium.
The Sox shifted their rotation and will start Nathan Eovaldi on Monday night. Rick Porcello, who pitched in relief on Friday, was bumped back until Tuesday.
It will be Eovaldi’s first postseason start.
“It’s definitely probably the most important game I’ve ever pitched in,” he said. “We need to win.”
As they did during the season, the Sox plan to focus on what’s in front of them.
“Nothing changes,” manager Alex Cora said on Sunday.
It’s what Cora has preached since the early days of spring training. He set the expectations for how he wanted the Sox to prepare and play and made each game a single unit of measurement. Win or lose, the next day was fresh out of the box.
“I think we’ve had a lot of success during the season on winning the game on that specific day and not worrying ahead,” shortstop Xander Bogaerts said. “So I think we’ll just go out and take the same approach. We know how important it is to win [Monday], and we’re looking forward to that.”
Bogaerts was one of about 14 players who turned out at Yankee Stadium on Sunday’s off day. Both teams passed on working out.
“Regular off day,” Cora said. “Some guys showed up, they took some hacks. They got treatment, had a good dinner in New York City. Come tomorrow and play the way we can play.”
The difference of course is what’s at stake and the degree of difficulty. The Yankees won 53 games at home this season, second only to the Red Sox. They also are undefeated in seven postseason home games over the last two seasons, winning those games by an average of four runs.
The first home playoff game against the Red Sox at the new Stadium could threaten attendance and decibel records.
“I think it’s going to be amazing, I really do,” Yankees manager Aaron Boone said. “I think the atmosphere [Monday] night is going to be special, electric, whatever you want to put on it. I think it’s going to be there, and hopefully we can go out there and give them reason to keep building as the game unfolds.”
The Sox were 3-6 at Yankee Stadium this season. They know it’ll be tough.
“They make it difficult for opposing teams to play,” Matt Barnes said. “We’ve played quite a few games here over the last few years with this group of guys.
“By no means is it going to be easy to win ballgames here, but we have the absolute confidence that we can do that. If we can go out and control everything we can and play the way that we know we’re capable of, I think everybody in that locker room is confident that we’re going to win.”
The Sox scored only seven runs and hit .213 with four extra-base hits in the first two games of the series. But Cora does not seem inclined to make significant lineup changes.
Second baseman Ian Kinsler is 2 for 8 with five strikeouts. Third baseman Eduardo Nunez is 0 for 7 and catcher Sandy Leon 0 for 5.
But it’s not that easy. Backup second baseman Brock Holt is 1 for 15 with six strikeouts against Yankees starter Luis Severino. Backup third baseman Rafael Devers is 0 for 12 with five strikeouts. Christian Vazquez is 2 for 8.
“I knew that question was coming. I’ll go to experience from the World Series last year,” Cora said. “That’s something I learned. Be patient. It’s such a small series that people get caught up on the whole small sample sizes.
“I always said that the difference between a .300 hitter in the postseason and a .200 hitter is 2 for 10 and 3 for 10. One swing. So we go with the quality at-bats. We know we have to swing the bat better.”