You can’t say that last night’s game against the Tampa Bay Rays is the start of the lovefest happening for Boston Red Sox center fielder Mookie Betts. Yet, the movement is happening.
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Drew Peabody of BoSox Injection reported that Betts was the impact player whom brought the team a much-needed victory, after a dismal 3-7 in their last 10 games. “[Betts’] quick hands helped make that double play happen that bailed Porcello out his biggest jam of the night. It was only ironic that Betts (22 years, 210 days) was the youngest Red Sox (according to Sox baseball information manager @ShestaSox) to have a two homer game since Jim Rice in the year that was the focus of tonight’s pre-game festivities, 1975 (22 years, 40 days, also on consecutive at-bats at Fenway).”
Betts, in the post-game interview, was humble in the moment, thinking about the team more than himself, according to MLB.com‘s Ian Browne. When asked about what his objective was at the plate, Betts said, “Just try to get on base and score a run no, matter how it is … You do know he has a no-hitter, so you always want to break it up, but then you have to step back and know it’s a team thing, you have to score some runs.”
As amazing as this feat is, it is not the first time that Betts has impressed baseball fans and experts. Throughout last season and this spring training, everyone was talking about Betts. Red Sox manager John Farrell said, “Well, for what we saw from Spring Training on, take away the average, his timing at the plate is pretty consistent, even though he’s had some balls when they’ve been hit hard, they’ve been hit right at people.” Farrell went on to say, “[Betts’] hand-eye coordination allows him to get that kind of swing on a first pitch … One heck of an athlete. We’re seeing some pretty special things in a short glimpse here.”
The 22-year-old from Nashville, Tennessee had a breakout, if short, season in 2014. Betts hit .291 in 52 games, with 5 home runs and 18 RBIs. In 2015, he has already striked out 19 times in 26 games, compared to the 31 strikeouts last year, which has contributed to his modest start of a .234 batting average. His slugging power has stayed pretty much the same (.444 to .417), and he has already stolen 5 bases to the 7 that he stole the season before.
While still making highlight-reel catches in center field, any dropoff could be from the pressure of being one of the stars of the team. Making Betts the leadoff batter to start the season expressed Farrell’s faith in the young man to set the table for the heart of the order to feast on potential RBI situations. That faith could be felt as pressure on Betts, knowing that he is leading one of the most historic franchises in baseball lore to score runs and try to put the club into the postseason. Maybe Betts is trying too hard, showing aggression on the base paths and swinging at pitches he would have left alone, last year.
Whatever the case, Red Sox Nation and the team’s brass do not seem to mind, at all. This learning curve has helped the club win ballgames, like last night. The Red Sox may see it as baptism by fire, using Betts now in pressure situations to forge him in the fire to make him a future All-Star, while the veterans are expected to pick up the slack when he falls short.
Just look at the media and how they have written so much about him or have shown so many of his highlights on television and YouTube. The fans clearly want to see Betts. Will this effort spell an All-Star appearance? We’ve known for years that when the fans vote, not everyone in the game may deserve to be there, according to statistical merit. However, the way that Betts has excited crowds with his bat, his legs, and his catches, it may not matter that his batting average is below .250, especially when every ball that he hits is drilled to applause or awe.
Betts excites people almost every game, spelling the signs that ‘MookieMania’ is in effect. The Beatles and Hulk Hogan are taking a backseat in Boston, as Betts continues to have a chance to show what makes him an impact player.
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