Betts, a trendsetter in every sense, embraced the Red Sox’s throwback uniforms and the pressure of a four-game losing streak Tuesday by blasting two solo homers in Boston’s 2-0 win over the Tampa Bay Rays at Fenway Park. It was a Jim Rice-esque performance on a night when the Sox celebrated the 40th anniversary of their 1975 American League championship team.
“One heck of an athlete that we’re seeing some pretty special things in a short glimpse here from him,” Red Sox manager John Farrell said after the victory.
Betts’ two-homer game marked the first multihomer game of his young career. And at 22 years, 210 days old, Betts became the youngest Red Sox player with a multihomer game since Rice accomplished the feat twice as a 22-year-old in, you guessed it, 1975.
“Nope, but now I do,” Betts said when asked if he knew he joined Rice with his achievement. “And I’m sure I’ll talk some smack to him tomorrow about it.”
Betts’ first home run in the sixth inning — a missile off the Sports Authority sign located atop the Green Monster — not only broke a scoreless tie. It also broke up a no-hit bid by Rays starter Drew Smyly.
“You do kind of know he has a no-hitter, so you always want to break it up,” Betts said. “But then you have to take a step back and say, ‘It’s more about the team to try to get on base and score some runs.’ ”
Rather than simply get on base, Betts touched them all. He did so again in the eighth inning when he lifted a first-pitch fastball from Ernesto Frieri over the 37-foot high wall in left field.
“From what you’ve saw from spring training on, take away the average,” Red Sox manager John Farrell said of Betts, who’s hitting .234 following Tuesday’s big performance. “His timing at the plate is pretty consistent, even though he’s had some balls where he’s hit hard hit right at some people.
“His hand-eye coordination allows him to get that kind of swing first pitch that he sees (in the eighth inning). I don’t know that he’s ever faced Frieri before, but he’s able to (homer) in his final at-bat.”
Betts has gone through some growing pains early in his sophomore season. It’s to be expected for such a young player with still so little experience. After all, he breezed through the minors en route to making his major league debut last season.
Each of Betts’ last five hits has gone for extra bases, though. And he now has recorded an extra-base hit in four consecutive games, the longest such streak of his career, which is a clear indicator that he’s hitting the ball with more authority after a brief stretch in which he was flailing at some balls out of the strike zone.
“Always,” Betts said of taking some hearty hacks. “Even from Day 1, I always want to drive the ball. Singles are singles and doubles and triples are all the same, but when I have the same swing, I don’t want to dial it down any, I don’t want to amp up any.”
Betts’ showcase against the Rays wasn’t limited to the batter’s box. He also helped turn a key double play with runners on first and second and no outs in the fourth inning to keep Tampa at bay.
With a performance like that, Betts wouldn’t mind sticking with the 1975 throwback duds.
“I love them,” Betts said. “I think we should play in them every game.”
Thumbnail photo via Greg M. Cooper/USA TODAY Sports Images
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