Somehow it figured that former Nashville Overton High School star Mookie Betts would be the one who would have to do something about the Boston Red Sox.
They were playing like the 1962 New York Mets to begin the season. Boston was not only losing, the team looked bad. Poor base-running decisions. Lousy starting pitching. Letting a fly ball drop between two outfielders.
Worst of all, they looked complacent, like all they had to do was show up to win. They looked so bad people were beginning to speculate whether they could climb out of the hole they dug for themselves in the American League East. This was the team that won the World Series seven months ago?
Betts himself wasn’t just hovering around the Mendoza line, he was smack on it, batting .200 on April 17.
But then came the fist-pumping trip around the bases after a Betts home run in Tampa Bay. More hits began to fall. And there was the home run to center field in Fenway Park on Tuesday against Oakland. Suddenly, the baseball world was seeing a fully resurgent Betts and an equally resurgent Red Sox. It seemed the team needed the first part to develop in order to have the second.
Over 11 games, Betts batted .452. After his 0-for-2 day Wednesday, including a sacrifice fly, he is batting .289. He now has six home runs and 16 RBIs.
The team that began the season 2-8 and was dragging the bottom of the division standings is now 14-17 and a reasonable 5 1/2 games behind first-place Tampa Bay. That’s a much more manageable position to be in on May 1 than the pitiful start the Red Sox displayed in April.
It’s the sign of what Betts means to the Red Sox.
The Boston Herald dug up some numbers following Tuesday’s home run by Betts. When crossing the plate, Betts scored his 500th career run. It took him only 674 major league games to reach that total. Only three other Red Sox in history have scored 500 runs in fewer games, Ted Williams in 548 games and Nomar Garciaparra in 661 and Johnny Pesky in 668.
Runs scored is one of the most underrated statistics in baseball. In basketball, the player with the most points is the star. In football, the player with the most touchdowns is the star. Most people couldn’t name the runs leader for their favorite baseball team. They probably couldn’t name the runs leader in the league, or the runs leader of all-time.
For the record, the current runs leader in the American League is Mitch Haniger of the Mariners with 28. The runs leader in the National League is Cody Bellinger of the Dodgers with 32. The all-time runs leader in baseball is Rickey Henderson with 2,295, followed by Ty Cobb with 2,246, Barry Bonds 2,227, then Hank Aaron and and Babe Ruth each with 2,174. They’re followed by Pete Rose with 2,165 and Willie Mays with 2,062. Any doubts about the correlation between productive players and the number of runs they scored?
Mookie Betts is leading the Boston Red Sox in runs scored this season with 22.
Betts was voted the Most Valuable Player in the American League last season. Oddly, when it came right down to it, Betts may not have been the most valuable player on his own team. The award is typically given to a player who is the catalyst for the team with the best record. Betts obviously gathered a lot of votes with his .346 batting average, 32 home runs and 80 RBIs. But J.D. Martinez with his .330 batting average, 43 home runs and 130 RBIs may have been more valuable, because Martinez brought the power that the Red Sox had lacked the year before when they found out what life was like without David Ortiz. Martinez was also that rare free agent who actually lived up to the big-money contract he signed.
All of which is to say Betts is clearly the most valuable player in the Red Sox’ early season turnaround this season. It looked like Betts was going to have to be the player to light the spark and make for a respectable baseball team. He delivered. If Boston wins the division, one player’s performance at this point in the season will have been the key. The player is Mookie Betts.