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peter abraham | on baseball

Novelty of London aside, Red Sox need to get down to business on this trip

Rafael Devers (right) and the Red Sox worked out the kinks at London Stadium on Friday.Dan Istitene/Getty Images/Getty Images

LONDON — It felt like the day before a World Series game on Friday, albeit it at a converted soccer stadium some 3,200 miles away from Boston.

The Red Sox and Yankees worked out on the field and there were formal news conferences for the respective managers, starting pitchers, and star players Mookie Betts and Aaron Judge.

Major League Baseball was on hand to coordinate everything and even Prince Harry is expected for at least some of the game Saturday.

But for all the buildup that has accompanied the first London Series, the reality is this: The Red Sox are nine games behind the Yankees in the American League East.

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They may be baseball’s ambassadors in Europe for the next two days, but the Sox are also a team that needs to start playing well to maintain any hope of winning the division.

That no Red Sox were voted starters for the All-Star team should have been a collective kick in the pants. So should the knowledge that with a loss Saturday they will be 10 games out of first place for the first time since the end of the 2015 season, when they finished 78-84 and in last place.

“Thank you for reminding me,” Sox manager Alex Cora said when asked about being so far behind the Yankees.

The Red Sox readily agreed to play the Yankees here last year because ownership is rightfully supportive of the idea of baseball branching out internationally. The Sox and Yankees are doing what’s right for baseball by playing in Europe. It’s an important step for the game and its future.

The NBA and NFL beat baseball to Europe. Now is a chance to catch up a little. Large crowds are expected for the series and MLB officials said approximately 80 percent of the tickets were purchased by fans from England.

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“It’s never too late. That’s the way I see it,” Cora said. “I think the opportunity came up and we jumped on it. It should be a fun weekend.

“If this is the beginning of something big and MLB and London can get together and keep it going, it would be great.”

But for the moment, it’s poor timing for the Sox.

They are losing two home games to play at what will be at best a neutral environment even if they do bat last. They’re also playing on a turf field at a time when Rafael Devers and Brock Holt are dealing with minor hamstring strains.

Plus Betts and J.D. Martinez are slumping; the bullpen is worn down and they’ll have to fly back across the Atlantic and play six road games before the All-Star break.

The Sox have been preparing for the logistics of this trip for months. Now that it’s here, they need to find a way to win at least one of these two games, or “fixtures” as they call it here.

“It’s something that we knew coming into the season, it was going to happen,” Cora said. “It just happened that we are where we are in the standings.

“We’ve been playing better. Obviously we want to be more consistent on a daily basis . . . We can’t get caught up on this is only the Yankees and London. There’s more baseball to play and we have to finish the first part of the season strong.”

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Rick Porcello, who faces Masahiro Tanaka on Saturday, knows what’s at stake.

“We know that they’re extremely important for us,” he said. “Any time you’re chasing down somebody in front of you, every ballgame you play is important. We have a chance to close the gap against a team that we’re chasing. That makes [the games] even more meaningful.”

But the Sox aren’t really chasing. They were 8½ games out April 17 and briefly got to three games behind May 12 before losing three of four. It has been a struggle ever since.

Yankees manager Aaron Boone said it was a business trip for his team and that any game against the Sox is sure to get them going.

But the Yankees are having fun at the same time. When they emerged from the clubhouse to work out Friday, Gleyber Torres was dribbling a soccer ball and that drew a big cheer from the crowd.

He passed the ball to Gary Sanchez and for a few seconds, London Stadium was a soccer venue again.

The Sox didn’t bring any props. Their season isn’t on the line this weekend, but if there is a turnaround coming, it has to start soon.

“We all get that,” Betts said. “It feels like a different kind of game with the crowd and all the media. Maybe that will get us going.”


Peter Abraham can be reached at pabraham@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @PeteAbe.