Last year at this time, Mookie Betts was playing second base for the Portland Sea Dogs in Double-A. Now, he’s doing something that hasn’t been done by a Red Sox player in over 40 years, not to mention playing center field.
After shifting to the outfield in late May of last year and then making his major league debut on June 29 of last year, Betts is now the Red Sox’ starting center fielder and had the best game of his 78-game major league career Tuesday night. Betts’ two solo home runs were the only offense the Red Sox got against Tampa Bay, and the only offense they needed in a 2-0 win over the Rays. The two home runs in the same game, at 22-years and 210 days-old, made Betts the youngest Boston player to accomplish the feat since Jim Rice, who was also 22, in 1975. Betts' first home run in the sixth inning actually broke up Rays starter Drew Smyly's no-hit bid.
Coincidentally, Betts’ performance Tuesday came with Rice in attendance as the 1975 team was honored for their 40th anniversary.
“I think we just needed a win,” said Betts. “But a win like this is huge because it's a momentum thing. We can carry it into tomorrow and whoever is on the bump I'm sure is going to continue that and we'll score a few more runs tomorrow."
While Betts may be a little modest putting the team first, manager John Farrell acknowledged Betts is a one-of-a-kind talent.
“One heck of an athlete that -- we're seeing some special things in a short glimpse,” said Farrell.
Through 26 games, Betts is hitting .234/.306/.411 with four home runs and 17 RBI. Although the .234 average seems low, he’s deserved better, as he’s had a number of hard hit balls that have gone for outs. Thinking back to the first week of the season, he crushed a few balls that would have been home runs in the middle of the summer, but went for outs then.
“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 where he's hit hard right at some people,” Farrell said. “His hand-eye coordination allows him to get that kind of swing on a first pitch that he sees.”
Looking at some of the other young players’ starts to their careers – Xander Bogaerts hitting .240 in his first full season and Jackie Bradley scuffling in his second full season, hitting .198 before being demoted to Triple-A Pawtucket, Betts is doing more than what’s expected.
"I think it's been alright,” Betts said of his season. “I've had a couple balls that didn't fall for me, mix in some bad at-bats as well. But I feel like I'm close and right where I want to be."