Red Sox 4, Rays 2: Remember when Mookie Betts thought he might never get any better?

Rob Bradford
May 22, 2018 - 10:35 pm

It was the first week of August 2017 and Mookie Betts was frustrated. One season before he was on his way to almost winning the American League MVP, but had slipped back to mere mortal status by the time the final few months of the following campaign rolled around.

He believed reality might be settling in.

"Last year could be arguably the best year I have in my career," Betts said when appearing the Bradfo Sho podcast. "I’m a realist and I know it ain’t getting much better than that. When am I going to hit 30 home runs again? I don’t know if I ever will. When am I ever going to hit .320 again? I don’t know if I ever will."

The statement now seems unfathomable.

Putting the hypothesis further in the rear-view mirror was Betts' 16th homer of the season, a three-run job in the Red Sox' 4-2 win over the Rays Tuesday night at Tropicana Field. After the two-hit night, the outfielder continues to lead baseball in virtually every offensive category, including batting average (.368) and OPS (1.211). (For a complete recap of the Sox' win, click here.)

Betts hasn't forgotten the statement. He owns it and actually has a pretty good explanation.

"I’ve always wanted to learn, I’ve always wanted to get better and whatnot. I just didn’t know how," Betts said when appearing on the Ep. 84 of the Bradfo Sho. "The will to get better was always there, it was just a matter of finding the source. And I’m not saying (former hitting coach Chili Davis) and the last crew didn’t help, because they definitely did, but this crew here now is just a different point of view that maybe hits home for me a little better.

"Obviously, I’m trying to be more aggressive swinging, and with J.D. (Martinez) and Timmy (Hyers) and Andy (Barkett), they’ve been kind of the main ones helping me as far as the type of swing and what I’ve learned through my swing and how to get the most out of it. Hanley (Ramirez) has been a big part in this whole process too. I think I found the sources to kind of help me with what I’m supposed to be learning."

What's interesting to note is how Betts has evolved from last season. And it's not only the numbers.

The outfielder admitted that he chose to internalize his issues, attempting to figure things out himself more than ever. Sure, he finished sixth in the AL MVP voting, but in his eyes, that was a mirage. 

When asked if he was surprised that he got those MVP votes, Betts admitted, "Yeah. Definitely. Obviously, I felt like I played awful last year. I was fortunate to be up there. It was one of those things I can build off of it and maybe if I can do a little better … My goal isn’t just to win an MVP. It’s to win a World Series, obviously."

But to revamp the whole ball of wax?

"My thought was that it couldn't get any worse," he said.

And here we are.

The conversation has changed, not only in regards to Betts self-evaluation but in terms of where his place in his MVP race might be. The outfielder refreshingly admits that the award is one of his personal goals, while also admitting that the hurdle he wasn't able to clear two years ago is still sitting there.

"If I win it it will definitely be cool. It’s going to be tough to win with Mike Trout," he said. "If I’m mentioned with him, you’re doing something well. He’s the best of the best. That’s pretty much all I can say ... "

Chris Sale allowed two runs over 7 2/3 innings, lowering his ERA to 2.17 and batting average against to .187. He has now allowed three runs or fewer in each of his first 11 starts, the first time a Red Sox pitcher has accomplished such a feat since Pedro Martinez in 2001.


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