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Mookie Betts, Red Sox strike back at notion baseball is boring

Rob Bradford
July 12, 2018 - 10:30 pm

The narrative that the Red Sox were an unlikable team was long gone. Heading into their series with the Blue Jays sitting 36 games over .500 took care of that.

But there was still another label being slapped on Alex Cora's team: they played baseball, did nothing but win, created few salacious storylines, and (once again) played the plodding sport of baseball. The Red Sox were supposed to be boring.

On plenty of nights, such a notion would be easily accepted. But not Thursday night at Fenway Park. At approximately 8:37 p.m., Mookie Betts made sure of that.

Grand slams are always going to elicit a reaction, but the one hit by Betts with two outs in the fourth inning of what would be a 6-4 Red Sox win offered some much-needed punctuation for those trying to prove that these events aren't just about counting the minutes to singing "Sweet Caroline" and finalizing another win. This was a small example of why baseball can actually be interesting. (For a complete recap of the Red Sox' 10th win in a row, click here.)

For the first time since they charted such things in 1988, a Red Sox hitter finished off an at-bat of as many as 13 pitches with a home run. It was the second time during that time span that a major league player had managed a home run with the bases loaded in at-bat of such length. Both nice stats.

The true takeaway? That would be the emotion the moment allowed for a Fenway crowd that has seemed to be increasingly energized as the homestand has unfurled, and a player who continues to leak out the kind of personality and enthusiasm that seemed to be missing while during those "unlikable" conversations.

"Since I've been in the big leagues that's probably the most excited I've been," Betts said. "Got to get ready for tomorrow."

Perhaps it was because of how the whole thing built itself.

Through the first three innings, this was trending toward another opportunity to put David Price in the crosshairs, with the Red Sox starter giving up a two-run homer to Teoscar Hernandez in the first inning. It was enough to elicit a park full of groans, with a smattering of boos. Two hours later the pitcher was walking off to a standing ovation. Sure, Price ended up pitching well enough, but the crowd reaction was due in part to the jumper cables that was Betts' grand slam.

By the time Betts came to the plate in that fourth, there were two outs and the bases loaded against Toronto ace J.A. Happ. The Red Sox had been able to extend what seemed like an innocuous inning thanks to an overturned double play ball, infield hit and six-pitch walk from Jackie Bradley Jr.

"The challenge? All the credit goes to JT (Watkins) our replay guy. He was actually the MVP of the game," said Cora, who tipped his hat to the phone used to called down to Watkins after it was ruled Toronto second baseman Devon Travis hadn't kept his foot on the bag while trying to make a 6-4-3 double play. "He was the one that made the call right away and you know we waited for the challenge to see, waited for the replay, and he does an outstanding job. Him and Steve (Langone) and Billy (Broadbent) too. But that was a game-changer. That play right there we’ve been a little bit unlucky lately with the challenges but that changed the game right there so give credit to him."

After falling behind 1-2, Betts fouled off five straight pitches before finally getting to 2-2 on a ball in the dirt. Following another foul ball, there was another ball, finally making the count full. That paved the way for an outside fastball that was only a few inches above the dirt. It was the lefty's 98th and final pitch thanks to a 108 mph, 407-foot homer well over the left-field wall.

As one social media commenter suggested, maybe such moments are considered so exciting in baseball because they come so few and far between. Fair. But for this night, anyway, it was a pretty good reminder why these games can at least be a nice little summer activity every now and again.

"Like I said yesterday, it was loud here with Chris on the mound, you could feel it and then that at-bat it was cool to see the fans standing up," Cora said. "As soon as he hit that ball, this place went crazy. I think the city is starting to like this team. It’s a likeable group. They play hard, they show up every day and regardless of the results, they’ll show up the next day. It’s good to see the place like that, very loud and into it."

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