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SportsColumnistsDavid Lennon

Because the Red Sox are so good, the pressure's on them

Boston Red Sox players warm up during a

Boston Red Sox players warm up during a baseball workout at Fenway Park, Thursday, Oct. 4, 2018, in Boston, in preparation for Game 1 of the ALDS against the New York Yankees on Friday. Credit: AP/Elise Amendola

BOSTON

If the Yankees were fired up for Friday’s renewal of baseball’s fiercest rivalry, you wouldn’t know it. After what Aaron Boone described as a “slow train” commute from New York City, the team scrubbed Thursday’s scheduled workout at Fenway Park, with only a handful of players -- we counted five -- showing up to at least play catch, including ALDS Game 1 starter J.A. Happ.

Was the chartered plane in the shop? Choosing between the Acela and a shuttle flight is something that reporters like myself typically wrestle with, but the Yankees? Evidently, Wednesday’s wild-card winner was in no big hurry to get to Beantown, and maybe that chill attitude is something that works for this group.

 You can’t dispute their on-field urgency, however. Just look at the  Yankees’ performance during the past week, first earning home-field advantage over the A's in the wild-card game (helped by taking three of four from the tenacious Rays) before eliminating Oakland altogether with Wednesday night’s impressive 7-2 smackdown in the Bronx.

 Whatever computer programs Brian Cashman’s quant-army was running upstairs to prepare for that do-or-die game worked to perfection. Luis Severino (four innings-plus, seven strikeouts) was the ideal starter, Aaron Judge and Giancarlo Stanton hit long home runs, Dellin Betances was Mo-caliber dominant and Gary Sanchez morphed into ’94 Mike Richter behind the plate.

 The A’s were a solid, surging, confident team when they arrived in the Bronx. The Yankees were just better, which leads us to the 108-win opponent awaiting them in the Division Series.

And how did the Red Sox spend their workout day? Basically by working out, a full run-through that included lefty Drew Pomeranz pitching live batting practice  so his teammates could face a Happ facsimile in preparation for Friday night.

  Smart idea, and we’ll see how much it helps in Game 1. As for Happ, he wasn’t offering any free insight into his plan of attack.

“I don’t think it makes a whole lot of sense for me to tell you that,” he said.

Even so, there’s not many secrets between these two clubs (Boston holds a 10-9 edge this season). Happ, despite the familiarity, still was able to pitch to a 1.99 ERA and hold the Red Sox to a .200 batting average in four starts against them this year. Whether that trend continues could depend on how the Red Sox, universally hailed as baseball’s best team, are able to handle the pressure that comes with a 108-win season.

 The 2001 Mariners were in a similar position after stacking up 116 wins, although we wouldn’t compare playing in the Pacific Northwest to the crucible of Boston, and the Yankees needed only five games to dispatch Seattle in the ALCS. If the Red Sox fold in that fashion this year, they may have to relocate to Montreal, especially coming off two consecutive Division Series exits.

“I think we’re a little more confident,” said Mookie Betts, the MVP favorite in the AL. “We’re looking to at least get past the first round. I think you want a challenge like this to show what we’re made of and who we are.”

But are the Red Sox up for it? They haven’t played a meaningful game since Sept. 21, when they clinched their third straight AL East title, and that can be a factor in trying to re-ignite a roster for the postseason. On top of that, Game 1 starter Chris Sale -- who was on a Cy Young track before two stints on the disabled list with  shoulder inflammation  --  has pitched only 17 innings in five starts since July 27.

The last time Sale took the mound, on Sept. 26, his fastball registered only 90 mph, down from 98 before his first trip to the DL. Maybe the Sox ace was just saving bullets. But after his 8.38 ERA in two playoff appearances (one start) last October, Sale is going to be feeling the heat if he’s not delivering it Friday night at Fenway.

And when a rather mundane question Thursday asked him to talk about his success this year against the Yankees, Sale replied with a curt “No.”

Was that Sale being tight? And if he’s being that way, how do you think Game 2 starter David Price -- with zero playoff wins -- will feel carrying his career mark of 2-7 and 7.71 ERA against the Yankees (in a Sox uniform) into Saturday night?

The Yankees, who we last saw spraying each other with champagne Wednesday night, seem to be rolling, and appear to be the best version of themselves.

“It’s arguably as whole as we’ve been all season long,” Boone said. “I think the guys are in a good frame of mind,”

 And no doubt well rested, with a Boston holiday to help them relax for this weekend.

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