Home-field advantage is a huge factor in determining the outcome of the World Series.
Just ask the last team to experience the difficulty of playing the decisive games of the season while stationed in the visitor's dugout. The Cardinals had carried themselves with a swagger while eliminating the Pirates and Dodgers but were outscored, 16-6, by the Red Sox in the three World Series games at Fenway Park.
"Last year we realized we had our hands full already with a very good team, and any time you get in front of that home fan base, there's an edge," said Cardinals manager Mike Matheny. "Statistics show it but you can sense it in the field, you can sense it as you compete. It's an advantage every team wants to have."
Matt Carpenter agrees.
"I think it's very important to grab that home field," said Carpenter, the Cards' All-Star third baseman. "Last year we saw it play out in Boston. They had the opportunity to play more games there than we did in St. Louis. Certainly in the playoffs, when you have a good crowd, that could be a huge advantage. There's certainly a lot to play for [tonight], because it is a big deal."
How big of a deal?
Since Commissioner Bud Selig persuaded owners to begin awarding home-field advantage in the World Series to the winning league in the All-Star Game -- after the tie in Milwaukee in 2002 -- in eight of 11 years, the Series has been won by a team whose league claimed that edge by winning the All-Star Game.
This trend is hardly new. Twenty-three of the past 28 World Series have been won by teams with home-field advantage, with the exceptions being the 2008 Phillies, '06 Cardinals, '03 Marlins, 1999 Yankees and '92 Blue Jays.
"I don't think you can ever underestimate the home-field advantage in postseason, certainly in a seven-game series," Red Sox manager John Farrell said. "Typically you're going to go up against an outstanding club, as we did last year in St. Louis. To have that final game potentially in your home ballpark, that goes a long way toward affecting the outcome."
Over the past decade, Major League teams have produced a .542 winning percentage playing at home. That translates to a swing of 14 victories over 162 games, suggesting that the chance to bat last and enjoy home cooking impacts the result roughly once every 11 to 12 games.
From 2004-13, home teams were 183-142 in postseason games. That's a .563 winning percentage, which over 162 games projects to a 91-71 record, a 20-win gain. This suggests that home field impacts roughly one of every eight postseason games.
In a best-of-seven or best-of-five series, this adds up to more of a difference than one might think.
Teams holding home-field advantage won 41 of 74 postseason series over the past decade, including the World Series in eight of those 10 years.
All-Star second baseman Chase Utley was at the height of his career with the Phillies in 2008 when his team did what no team has done since -- win a World Series it opened on the road.
The Phils had rolled past the Brewers and Dodgers, losing only once in each round of the playoffs, before going to Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg to start the World Series against the Rays. It's safe to say that players knew they were in foreign territory when their coaches and staff members started explaining ground rules involving fly balls that might hit catwalks, among the stadium's other quirks.
"There's a definite home-field advantage," Utley said. "If you're playing against an American League team in the World Series, most likely you haven't played at that park too often. You're not as comfortable playing there. You don't know how the ball bounces in certain ways. You don't know how the ball carries in the outfield. So there are different ways on the playing surface it can be an advantage. Then you have your home fans who are going crazy, getting loud. I know in Philadelphia, they can be rough on visiting teams."
Fans at Tropicana Field were ringing cowbells throughout the games, but the Phillies weren't shaken. Utley hit a two-run homer off Scott Kazmir in the first inning of Game 1, and the Phils held on for a 3-2 win that allowed them to essentially take away home-field advantage. They avoided the return trip by winning three straight at Citizens Bank Park, including the suspended Game 5, which only extended the Rays' hopes.
Many people picked the Tigers to beat the Giants in the 2012 World Series. Detroit had swept the Yankees in the AL Championship Series, which allowed Tigers manager Jim Leyland to line up his pitching while Bruce Bochy had to scramble after San Francisco rallied from a 3-1 deficit to survive a seven-game National League Championship Series.
The World Series opened at AT&T Park in San Francisco, thanks to the NL shutting out the AL in the All-Star Game at Kauffman Stadium earlier in the year. The Giants crushed Justin Verlander in Game 1. They would go on to win Game 2 behind Madison Bumgarner and sweep the shell-shocked Tigers in the Series.
Bumgarner calls having home field "a big advantage" but stops short of saying that the results would have been different for Verlander and the Tigers if they had been at Comerica Park in Detroit for Games 1 and 2.
"It's hard to say," Bumgarner said. "We were on a pretty good roll at that time. I'm going to err on our side. I feel like you have to go with your guys, but you never know. It's a crazy game."
Every little thing matters.
And history shows that home-field advantage is anything but little in the World Series.