Mookie Betts and Xander Bogaerts collaborated on a historically precocious feat. (Getty Images)

Why You Should Have Cared About This Red Sox Game: Xander Bogaerts, Mookie Betts and hope for the future

September 02, 2014 - 6:37 pm
(For the final month of the regular season, '€œClosing Time'€ will now be called '€œWhy You Should Have Cared,'€ looking beyond the final score -- at a time when losses are arguably more valuable to the Sox than wins (for draft and waiver position) -- for either meaningful signs for 2015 or simple aesthetic considerations.) The revisionist fiction is intriguing. What if the Red Sox had been carried by their rookies rather than weighed down by them? What if Xander Bogaerts had remained the elite offensive performer he looked like through the first two months of the year rather than the least productive hitter in the majors over the next two-plus months? That concept seemed tantalizing in the Red Sox' 9-4 win over the Yankees on Tuesday night, when Bogaerts and Mookie Betts became the first pair of Red Sox rookies to homer in Yankee Stadium since 1952, and the first pair of 21-year-olds in half a century to go deep against New York in a single contest (and just the second duo -- along with Jim Palmer and Curt Blefary of the Orioles in 1965 -- to do it since at least 1914). Bogaerts set one career high with four hits and matched another with two extra-base hits, going 4-for-5 with two singles, a double and homer. It was his first homer since July 29, and just his second three-hit game since the start of June. Betts, meanwhile, had his first big league three-hit game, with singles to both left and right and a long homer to left-center that continued his dazzling performance as the everyday centerfielder with the Sox. In 15 games since his mid-August promotion for that role in the big leagues, he's hitting .315/.413/.556 with three homers. The leading role played by the Red Sox' young core may not have happened this year. But on Tuesday, Betts and Bogaerts offered a reminder of why the team will not turn its back on the potential upside of its young players going forward. The team likely will be more deliberate in how it integrates young players -- and the signing of Rusney Castillo offers the team an avenue to allow Betts to spend more of next year in Triple-A -- but the idea of a young, homegrown top-of-the-order hitter and a young, homegrown middle-of-the-order hitter remains a potential foundational strength going forward. OTHER REASONS WHY YOU SHOULD HAVE CARED ABOUT TUESDAY'S GAME -- Joe Kelly matched a career-high with six strikeouts over 6 2/3 innings in which he permitted three runs, and continued to show a pitch mix that makes him an intriguing presence for next year's rotation. Opponents have struggled to make solid contact against him since the Sox acquired him at the trade deadline for John Lackey, hitting just .203 against the right-hander. While he likely profiles as a back-of-the-rotation starter, in flashes, he's shown upside that exceeds such a projection given the action on his secondary stuff and his ability to get groundballs in bunches on his heater. -- Though Yoenis Cespedes went 2-for-4, he continued his struggles with balls hit over his head, misplaying a catchable liner by Martin Prado into a hit. While such issues had been seen with some regularity at Fenway Park (where the looming specter of the Green Monster has created an insurmountable foe for some left fielders), they're now also showing up in some visiting parks. The Sox' defensive evaluation of Cespedes could play a huge role in how the team decides to proceed with him this winter, at a time when there does appear to be something of a crowd in the outfield. -- Daniel Nava had his first homer since April 15. He ended a 75-game homerless drought, the fourth-longest by a Sox position player this century (behind Rey Sanchez, Alex Cora and Lou Merloni). -- Will Middlebrooks punched out four times in five plate appearances. He's struck out in a career-worst 29.6 percent of his plate appearances this year. -- Tommy Layne recorded four outs without permitting a run or a hit. The 29-year-old is making a strong case for a big league role in 2015 on the strength of a 0.66 ERA and .156 opponents' batting average.