Mookie Betts Hits His Postseason Groove at the Perfect Time
BOSTON, MA - OCTOBER 14:  Mookie Betts #50 of the Boston Red Sox celebrates his two-run double during the eighth inning against the Houston Astros in Game Two of the American League Championship Series at Fenway Park on October 14, 2018 in Boston, Massachusetts.  (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)

Maddie Meyer/Getty Images

The Boston Red Sox drew even with the Houston Astros in Game 2 of the American League Championship Series with a 7-5 win Sunday at Fenway Park.

It wasn’t all about Mookie Betts. But Betts played a starring role, and that’s a big deal for Boston going forward.

Entering the game, Betts—the probable AL MVP—owned a .653 OPS with just two RBI in 52 career playoff plate appearances. Despite his considerable regular-season success, he’d yet to carve his October mark.

That changed in Game 2, as Betts went 2-for-4 with two doubles, an RBI and a pair of runs scored. He was smiling from ear to ear, and Red Sox nation smiled back.

We all know what Betts did through 162 contests for Boston, but let’s recount his accomplishments anyway.

The 26-year-old paced baseball with a .346 average and 10.4 WAR by FanGraphs’ calculation. He clubbed 32 home runs, stole 30 bases and posted 20 defensive runs saved for his efforts in right field. 

Look up “complete player” and you’ll see a picture of Betts’ grinning visage. 

After finishing second in AL MVP voting in 2016, he backslid a tad in 2017. Last season, he hit “only” 24 home runs with 102 RBI, won a Gold Glove and finished sixth in AL MVP balloting. 

It’s one thing to perform during the spring, summer and even the stretch run. It’s another to do it under the brightest lights, especially for a historic franchise such as the Red Sox. 

Remember, too, Betts and Boston are competing against the defending World Series champion Astros, arguably the most stacked club in baseball. Defeating Houston in a best-of-seven series will require all of the Sox’s firepower.

Betts wasn’t the only notable man Sunday. Oft-maligned left-hander David Price showed flashes through 4.2 innings, and the bullpen made it stand up. 

Center fielder Jackie Bradley Jr., sometimes an offensive drag, delivered a key three-run double. 

Betts, though, was the effervescent core of Boston’s attack, which is exactly as it should be.  

In Game 1 of the ALCS, Betts got a pitch to hit in a key spot against Astros right-hander Justin Verlander and squandered the opportunity.

“Fastball middle-middle. You can’t miss that pitch,” Betts told reporters after the fact. “Especially against Verlander in a situation like that. Just one of those things where, I didn’t get the job done.”

Elise Amendola/Associated Press

Give him credit; he owned it. But owning it and delivering are two different things. It was time for Betts to deliver, for himself and his teammates. 

It was time for him to heed the advice he got from Red Sox legend David Ortiz a couple of campaigns ago. “Think less,” Big Papi admonished, per Jason Mastrodonato of the Boston Herald.

Get out of your head. Get into your game.

Betts did exactly that in Game 2. He helped even the series. He injected life into the Boston dugout and reminded America why he’s among the brightest stars in the MLB galaxy.

Check out the respectful praise Astros manager A.J. Hinch heaped on Betts in remarks to reporters prior to Game 2:

“He’s one of the most dynamic hitters in baseball. So you can imagine my thought was panic and fear whenever he comes up to bat with no escape. He can cover every pitch, he’s a threat to do a lot of different things. I’m not really going to go over what our pitch approach is going to be to him, but the less of those at-bats [with runners on base] that we can get the better because he’s a ticking time bomb to do some kind of damage.”

On Sunday, the damage was done. The smile appeared. 

It wasn’t all about Mookie, but it was a lot about him. 

And that’s a big deal for Boston.

   

All statistics current as of Sunday and courtesy of FanGraphs and Baseball Reference.

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