Mookie Betts put the Boston Red Sox on the board with a three-run homer to right field in the first inning against the Tampa Bay Rays.
The Boston Red Sox jumped on Chris Archer out of the gate, showing the ace of the Tampa Bay Rays staff hasn’t put his struggles at Fenway Park behind him after all. Archer allowed three consecutive hits to begin the bottom of the first inning, capped by a three-run home run to Mookie Betts.
After falling behind in the count 2-1, Archer hung an 87 mph slider high over the plate. Betts sliced a line drive to right field that wrapped around the Pesky Pole for a home run.
It was the first home run for Betts since August 3, covering a span of 120 at-bats. That represents his longest drought in a season that has seen his home run power drop off dramatically from his career-year in 2016.
The 24-year old will take a homer any way he can get them at this point, although this one was certainly unusual by his standards. Betts almost always pulls his home runs to left, while Friday night’s blast was a rare opposite field shot. It was only the third time in his career that Betts has hit a home run to the right side of the second base bag. The 318-foot liner was not only the shortest of his career, it was by far the furthest to the right.
Fenway has surprisingly suppressed his power this year, as this was only the fifth homer Betts has hit at home this season. That’s highly unusual, considering Betts has blasted a combined 26 home runs at Fenway over the last two seasons.
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Showing the ability to make hard contact to the opposite field could boost those power numbers. The short fence near the right field pole can be an inviting target at Fenway. The shot he hit Friday night wouldn’t have been a home run in most ballparks, yet it almost certainly would have gone for extra bases. Right fielders aren’t typically hugging the line with Betts at the plate, so most won’t be able to get to a ball sent screaming in that direction.
His middling batting average has become a bit of a concern, yet the 34.7 percent Hard Contact that Betts is making is higher than last year’s rate. He was hitting the ball with authority through a frustrating slump, those balls simply weren’t falling in for hits. His .267 BABIP is the culprit behind his dwindling batting average, which history tells us is bound to reverse course at some point.
Attacking the opposite field would be one way to improve those odds, since defensive alignments aren’t set expecting that approach. “Hit ’em where they ain’t” is the old expression for getting a base hit. That’s been the biggest issue this season for Betts, who routinely squares up pitches that are hammered directly in the path of a defender.
Last night’s home run may have been a fluke, or it could be a sign of things to come. Perhaps this is what will get Betts going, sparking the type of torrid stretch we know he’s capable for. With the postseason on the horizon, there’s no better time for Betts to heat up.