The Boston Red Sox have plenty of reasons to look forward to returning home from a brief but successful trip.
None more than the chance to help their hometown heal from one of the most tragic events in the city's history.
With slugger David Ortiz expected to make his season debut and Clay Buchholz hoping to remain undefeated, the Red Sox try for a seventh consecutive victory Friday night against the Kansas City Royals in their first home game since the Boston Marathon bombings.
Shortly after the Red Sox (11-4) won 3-2 over Tampa Bay in Monday's annual Patriots Day game, two bombs exploded near the downtown finish line of the Boston Marathon. The alleged act of terrorism killed three people, injured more than 170 and jarred the collective hearts of a city and nation
On Friday, the Red Sox and Royals (8-6) hope to provide another element in the healing process for the city of Boston.
"It's going to be great,'' said Jon Lester, who pitched seven strong innings in Boston's 6-3 win at Cleveland on Thursday. "Maybe for a couple of hours it can get back to being Boston and watching a baseball game and not thinking about all the other things. Hopefully, we'll be able to do that.''
Though the Royals have dropped seven of 10 at Fenway Park, they also are looking forward to Friday's contest.
"It's going to be a lot of fun to go into that city and play in that town when it means more than just playing baseball," Kansas City third baseman Mike Moustakas told MLB's official website. "It's going to be nice to go into a town and be able to help people out."
During their three-game sweep of Cleveland, the Red Sox put a symbolic jersey in their dugout that had "BOSTON 617 STRONG" on the back. They'll likely do the same with a home jersey at Fenway and have the Red Sox logo "B" with the word "Strong" under it on the Green Monster.
Red Sox fans can certainly find comfort in their team's start after missing the postseason the last three years. Boston leads the AL East and can win seven straight for the first time since 2011.
That success came without Ortiz, who started on the disabled list with an Achilles injury that limited him to 90 games in 2012. The slugger went 4 for 20 during a rehab assignment that ended Thursday when he homered for Triple-A Pawtucket.
"He feels good about where he's at, and all things are pointing to his return (Friday)," manager John Farrell said.
Ortiz has batted .371 with five homers and 23 RBIs in his last 16 games versus Kansas City.
Buchholz (3-0, 0.41 ERA), meanwhile, has thrown 18 scoreless innings since allowing his only run - a homer at Yankee Stadium on April 3. He's yielded 11 hits and struck out 23 in 22 innings overall.
The right-hander, who took a no-hitter in the eighth Sunday versus Tampa Bay, ultimately allowing two hits and fanning 11 in the 5-0 win, will try not to get caught up in the emotion of a special night.
"I'm going to try to keep my emotions under wraps as much as possible," he told the Red Sox's official website. "Given the circumstances, it's going to be a day that's in pursuit of recovery for everyone who had to face losses."
Buchholz is 3-1 with a 2.19 ERA against the Royals, but has not faced them since 2010.
Kansas City counters with James Shields (1-2, 3.43), who went 2-9 with a 5.86 ERA at Fenway for Tampa Bay. However, he allowed four hits in 8 1-3 innings of 1-0 win at Boston last season.
The right-hander gave up three runs, two on a homer, and one other hit in nine innings of a 3-2 loss to Toronto on Saturday.
Lorenzo Cain had three hits and Jeff Francoeur the RBI in Kansas City's 1-0 win over Atlanta on Wednesday.
Cain is batting .424 in his last nine games, but is 2 for 15 with a homer and six strikeouts at Fenway.