He finished second to Angels icon Mike Trout in 2016 for American League MVP, but if (as expected) Red Sox outfielder Mookie Betts picks up his first AL MVP award later this offseason we will look back at 2018 as the time when he truly entered another plateau both in terms of stardom in Boston’s crowded list of current sports headliners and also around MLB.
Betts' biggest competition for the award this season is teammate J.D. Martinez, but what separates Betts is his all-around ability as he lapped the rest of baseball with a .346 batting average, tied for the most runs scored with Cleveland’s Francisco Lindor (129) and had the highest slugging percentage (.640) along with 32 home runs, 80 RBIs and 30 stolen bases. His OBP (.438) and OBP + SLG (1.078) trailed only Trout, and his WAR (wins above replacement value) is the best since a roided up Barry Bonds was 11.8 way back in 2002. If that’s not enough, Betts is poised to win his third straight Gold Glove for his superb defense in right field and he was primarily the lead-off hitter for the best offense in MLB.
There were countless highlights for Betts in the season when he won his first World Series championship. No doubt his 13-pitch marathon at-bat against the Blue Jays on July 13 that resulted in a grand slam off J.A. Happ was one of the most electrifying moments for him as the normally subdued Betts gestured toward his teammates in the dugout and jumped for joy around the bases. Toronto had led 2-1 before that but Boston ended up winning that game 6-4 for its 10th straight victory. Two weeks later, he followed up that memorable swing with another: his first career walk-off homer in the 10th inning as the Red Sox beat the Twins, 4-3, also at Fenway Park.
His postseason struggles throughout his young career (this was his fourth full season in MLB and third straight year in the playoffs) were well-chronicled so it was fitting that he finally hit his first postseason homer on Sunday in Boston’s World Series clinching win over the Dodgers. His solo shot in the sixth inning off of LA’s ace Clayton Kershaw gave the Red Sox a 3-1 lead and some much-needed insurance as they locked up the final few innings.
But the coolest moment involving Betts this season didn’t even come on a baseball field. Shortly after Boston had won Game 2 of the World Series vs. Los Angeles at frigid Fenway, a picture was tweeted out by former Red Sox infielder and broadcaster Lou Merloni that Betts had personally delivered trays of food to the homeless outside the Boston Public Library. In the middle of a quiet fall night, it was far from a PR stunt as details of the wonderful act trickled out through Red Sox beat writers the next few days. Suddenly, his relative lack of production at the plate seemed quite irrelevant. That was when the Tennessee native became more than just a beloved baseball player in Boston. Now he’s an honorary Bostonian that we can all be proud of.