BOSTON – Mookie Betts is that guy. You know the one. He does everything well. He’s so talented that it borders on obnoxious. Actually, it doesn’t border anything. It is obnoxious, and what compounds the obnoxiousness all the more is that he’s legitimately humble about his excellence in life, which makes bringing up the subject feel petty, and now not only is Mookie better than you at flying airplanes and solving Rubik’s Cubes and bowling and ping-pong and, of course, baseball, he’s a better person than you, too, and that’s just not cool, man.
Coming into Game 2 of the American League Championship Series on Sunday night, if one legitimate point of criticism for Betts existed, it concerned his mediocrity in postseason baseball. Over the first dozen playoff games in his career, Betts was not that guy. He was just some guy. The incongruity, of course, could last for only so long, and by the end of Game 2, the Houston Astros felt the same way as everyone who knows Betts: Awed by – and a little bit tired of – his superiority.
Betts’ front-and-center role in the Red Sox’s ALCS evening – and perhaps season-salvaging – 7-5 victory against the Astros showcased a wide breadth of his baseball-playing abilities. He swung with authority. He ran with grace and intelligence. The only thing missing was a catch or throw worthy of the third Gold Glove he’ll win this winter, and there are three games to be played in Houston, and now likely more in Boston beyond that, to put on that sort of a show.
Game 2 showcased Betts’ offensive exploits, which were apparent from his first shimmy on second base. The Red Sox have taken to celebrating extra-base hits with a little twist and a little shout that would make the Isley Brothers proud, and Betts launching the fifth pitch thrown by Astros starter Gerrit Cole nearly 400 feet into center field landed him on second and jump-started a two-run first inning. The crowd of 37,960 at Fenway Park, squeamish knowing perennial playoff just-some-guy David Price was on the mound, lit up for Betts’ line shot.
“He ignited them from the very beginning of the game,” said Astros manager A.J. Hinch, who before the game had called Betts a “ticking time bomb.” “This place, the energy of this place when he comes up to bat, is really electrifying.”
Price frittering away the two-run cushion by yielding a pair of runs in the second and third innings sapped the voltage until Jackie Bradley Jr. answered in the bottom of the third with a bases-clearing double that staked Boston a lead it would not lose. Both of the tack-on runs that came after were Mookie Betts productions, particularly the first, in which the Astros helped him parlay a walk into a run without so much as a ball in play.
Lance McCullers Jr. replaced Cole to start the seventh inning, and Betts stared at a full-count fastball just outside to draw the walk. Betts’ large secondary lead – in which a runner takes a few steps once the pitcher starts his delivery – allowed him to take second base on a strike-three curveball to Andrew Benintendi that bounced away from catcher Martín Maldonado. Betts advanced to third when Maldonado couldn’t handle another McCullers curveball. And home Betts came on a second Maldonado passed ball, his wheels – and, sure, McCullers’ feral curve – gifting the Red Sox a 6-4 lead.
The episode reminded his teammate, Mitch Moreland, of a time when Betts scored on a ball Moreland put in play and said he had no business scoring on. Moreland, happy to get an RBI, told Betts he was going to buy him a pair of Lucchese cowboy boots for the effort. Betts was incredibly appreciative – so much so, Moreland said, he refused to accept them unless he could repay the favor. And that is how Mitch Moreland came to own his first pair of Air Jordans.
See. Better person than you, too.
“And he’s the best player in the game,” Moreland said. “He changes the game in so many different ways. He’s just that dynamic of a player. And he proves it night in, night out, whether it’s defense, baserunning, his baseball IQ. Then you add what he does at the plate. He’s a special player.”
After hitting .346/.438/.640 with 32 home runs and 30 stolen bases for a 108-win team, Betts will be rewarded with the AL MVP. The only thing missing from his résumé was an iconic postseason performance, and Game 2 was as close as he has come, capped by an RBI double into center field that gave the Red Sox an extra insurance run in the eighth inning and proved Hinch’s pregame prognostication awfully prescient.
So now Mookie Betts can say he has his pilot’s license and has figured out a scrambled cube in less than two minutes without switching the stickers and has rolled a 300 in the World Series of Bowling and has dominated locker-room table tennis games and has won an MVP and has been the key cog in keeping the Red Sox from heading to Houston for three games with a 2-0 series deficit. And after he did the latter, he was typically Mookie about it, all I-do-what-I-can-to-help-the-team-win. Like, literally, he said: “I just go out and do what I can to help the team win.”
OK, man. Seriously. We get it. You are too good to be true. Enough.
“I saw him smiling today, which is always good,” Red Sox manager Alex Cora said. “When Mookie’s smiling, good things are happening.”
When Mookie’s doing anything, it seems, good things are happening. And on Sunday night, as the New England Patriots were handing the Kansas City Chiefs their first loss of the season, as David Price’s team was winning a game for the first time in his 11 postseason starts, the best thing for Boston was Mookie Betts looking like Mookie Betts. Which is to say obnoxious in all the right ways.
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