Feats of Mookie: Feets of Mookie (and doing something that had never been done against Chris Sale)

July 10, 2014 - 3:38 am

THIS was what had been missing. THIS was what the Red Sox had hoped to see from their infusion of youth -- a surge of energy that could alter the dynamic of a 2014 Red Sox team that so often seemed pulseless. When the Red Sox called up Mookie Betts at the end of June, the decision reflected a desire to inject some of the dynamism that had been missing in the absence of Shane Victorino and in the aftermath of Jacoby Ellsbury's departure. On Wednesday, the 21-year-old underscored that he has the talent to deliver. Betts' 11-pitch at-bat against White Sox starter Chris Sale that concluded with a double off the scoreboard in left center was impressive enough. After all, it was just the fourth at-bat of 11 or more pitches that Sale had ever encountered, and the first to conclude with a hit. "I can tell myself that I can compete with the best of the best," Betts concluded of the at-bat. "It was fun. You've got a guy coming in at 98 from that angle, but it was tough at the same time, and that's the part I love about it." Yet that hit was rendered almost incidental in documenting Betts' feats on Wednesday. In the bottom of the eighth, with Sale and the White Sox seemingly on cruise control towards a shutout victory, Betts tapped a ground ball and burst out of the box. Shortstop Alexei Ramirez's throw to first could not catch the outfielder, and then things got interesting. Second baseman Gordon Beckham was backing up the play at first base. With Ramirez having come in on the ground ball, Betts recognized immediately that no one was at second base and took off for second, outrunning everyone for what was ruled an infield double. "It was a big gamble, but [Sox manager John Farrell] says be aggressive the same way I've been my whole career. I just saw the second baseman going to back up. I knew the shortstop had to come in on it, so second base had to have been open," said Betts. "I looked and just took a gamble and went." It was a play that highlighted Betts' explosiveness as a runner as well as his instincts and situational awareness to understand that second base might be vacated. "I told him, 'You've done that before.' He said, 'Yeah, a few times,' " noted Red Sox first base coach Arnie Beyeler. (Betts confirmed that he had indeed pulled off the trick on occasion in the minors.) "You don't teach that to kids. You don't teach stuff like that. Just, instinctually, they've done it along the way. They've got to react, because if they wait to see, it's too late. It's a great baseball play, great instinctual play. You don't see it a lot, those kinds of things. '€¦ That's one of those, you usually look up and say, 'Yeah, nobody's there, go ahead.' He was already on the way." It was the sort of rarity that forces attention to be paid to a player's ability to alter the course of a game. In some ways, it was evocative of a play like Jacoby Ellsbury scoring from second base on a wild pitch in his early days in the big leagues -- the type of play that's almost never seen, and that has the potential to send ripples through a game and to alter an outcome -- as proved to be the case with the Sox' 5-4 win on Wednesday. "It's a big hustle play -- got energy, got things going," said Beyeler. "It was big." Betts once again highlighted the base running dimension he can add to the team when he was clipped by a pitch from White Sox closer Javy Guerra in the ninth, at a time when the Red Sox still trailed, 4-3. When Daniel Nava followed with a double off the wall, Betts got a strong read and streaked home easily. Did he know he'd make it off the bat? "Absolutely," Betts said. "I knew they weren't going to catch it, so I tried to put it in extra gear and make sure I made it." Betts described his speed as "probably my best attribute," yet after making that proclamation, he offered an unexpected disclaimer. "People think I'm fast. I'm not fast. I'm quick," said Betts. He said that it is his first step that "makes me look fast. But I'm not that fast. I don't think." Yet Betts also said that he has been clocked going from home to first in 3.9 seconds -- well, well above average, especially for a right-handed hitter -- and he said that he had been timed in the 60-yard dash as low as 6.4 seconds. "But that ain't going to happen again," Betts said with a chuckle. "I used to be real fast. Those days are over." Those who saw his game-changing speed on the bases on Wednesday, however, begged to differ. "On the scale, he's probably a 7 runner on the 2-8 scale, on the scouting scale," said Beyeler. "Any time you've got a guy up here with foot speed, it can impact the game. Just being over there, those guys started slide-stepping on him. It changes a pitcher's tempo. I wouldn't say he's in a class with Ellsbury and those guys speed-wise, but him, [Brett] Gardner, those guys, they get on base and you've got to pay attention to them. So they change an at-bat. Maybe the pitcher slide steps, drags an elbow and one of these guys gets a high fastball instead of a low fastball. You just never know." It is a dimension that the Red Sox have been missing, and that they will be eager to observe with increasing frequency going forward.