It all looked so natural.
His smooth glide around the bases after clearing the Green Monster. His lightning-quick closing speed on fly balls in right field. Even his confident demeanor and easy smile — the same one that endeared him to Boston Red Sox fans for six years, and dazzled them again for three days this weekend.
Mookie Betts knew his return to Fenway Park would be special.
His sensational play during the series, however, became a sentimental bonus.
“You have to separate business and emotions,” he said. “But they were there. You just can’t let them get in the way of your job.”
Betts had no problem doing so in his long-awaited reunion, closing the trip with another leading performance in the Dodgers’ 7-4 rubber-match win on Sunday afternoon.
Betts led the game off with a single, extending his hitting streak to 15 games. He belted a two-run homer over the Monster in the sixth, giving the Dodgers a 4-0 lead. He added an insurance run with an RBI single in the eighth, raising his batting average to a season high of .315.
And he was so good — and still so beloved in the place he started his big league career before being traded to the Dodgers in 2020 — that the Red Sox’s own television network picked Betts’ home run as the broadcast’s play of the game.
“I'm sure he's going to sleep well tonight,” Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said. “I'm sure he's physically and emotionally exhausted. But, man, he's a pro and he does a great job of compartmentalizing.”
Betts did have help in the series finale.
First baseman Freddie Freeman had two doubles — matching, and then surpassing, Shawn Green’s previous Los Angeles Dodgers record for doubles in a season by finishing the day with an MLB-high total of 50.
Rookie pitcher Gavin Stone looked solid in his return to the majors, earning his first career win in a six-inning-plus, four-run outing of bulk relief.
The Dodgers doubled the Red Sox’s hit total (14 to seven) to pick up their eighth straight series win, improving to 21-4 in August.
Still, Betts was the weekend’s biggest story, going seven for 15 with two doubles, four RBIs and just one strikeout in 16 trips to the plate — many of them accompanied by standing ovations and extended applause.
“Super dope,” Betts said of his first trip back to Fenway. “All that the city has done for me and all everyone here has done for me, I’m very blessed. I thank everyone for the opportunity, because it definitely shaped me into who I am today.”
Betts said it wasn’t difficult to stay focused, even as reacquainted himself with the club he was drafted by in 2011, debuted with in 2014 and reached his career peak in 2018 as a World Series champion and American League MVP.
“Obviously the emotions were there and I let them come,” he said. “But I also let them go. You have to be able to separate it.”
Though he long ago moved on from his Boston departure, becoming one of the faces of a Dodgers franchise he won a second World Series with in 2020, he did feel some sort of “closure” as he walked out of the visiting clubhouse for the final time this weekend.
“I’m glad I got it,” he said. “It was fun to run out to right field at Fenway again.”
Given his recent level of play — Betts leads the majors in August with a .457 batting average, 1.303 on-base-plus-slugging percentage and 18 extra-base hits — it was impossible to not draw parallels to his memorable 2018 Red Sox season.
“I don’t know, man,” he said of the comparison. “2018, that was crazy. If I can get anything near it, then I know I’ve done something good. But I would definitely say that’s the best by far.”
Betts’ overall numbers this season aren’t as strong. In 2018, he batted .346 and had a 1.078 OPS, still 60 points better than his mark at the end of Sunday. He was also a nearly unanimous MVP, an award for which he faces stiff competition this year.
“I’d be lying if I said it wouldn’t be cool,” Betts said when asked if winning another MVP is a motivating factor for him. “But the No. 1 thing is winning the World Series, winning the division and playing well, man.”
The latter two boxes are all but checked.
And if Betts, Freeman and the Dodgers can sustain something close to their recent form — which was only cemented in their trip to Fenway — their title aspirations might become reality, as well.
“You're playing in a great environment, against a team that's fighting for their lives, and we just responded with that same intensity,” Roberts said. “It was a shot in the arm as far as what we have to look forward to later in the season.”
Pitching injury updates
Roberts provided updates on several injured pitchers Sunday morning, including an unsurprisingly dire development in Tony Gonsolin’s elbow injury.
After getting a recent MRI, Gonsolin “potentially” needs surgery that could impact his availability for next year, Roberts said. The manager declined to disclose the specific diagnosis, but confirmed that the injury will sideline Gonsolin for the rest of this season, as expected.
Walker Buehler’s recovery from Tommy John surgery also remains status quo, according to Roberts. The right-hander recently threw his first multi-inning simulated game. And, while his exact time table remains unclear, the Dodgers are still hopeful of a mid-to-late September return for the pitcher.
This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.