Thomas: Thank you Mookie Betts
Aidan Thomas | Monday, February 17, 2020
Growing up in Portland, Maine, I was fortunate enough to watch Mookie Betts play baseball before he reached Fenway Park. Working at the Portland Sea Dogs, the Red Sox’s Double-A squad, I got to see Betts on a nearly daily basis, witnessing first-hand the electric touch he brought to the game. Earlier this week, the trade of Betts became official, and, while I am able to keep perspective, this is the saddest I’ve ever been about a player leaving my favorite team. And, while I’m not criticizing Chaim Bloom and the Red Sox for their decision, I will however use this Sports Authority to remember my favorite Mookie memories. These aren’t necessarily the best plays he ever made in a Red Sox uniform, simply the times I remember watching him play and thinking … to quote George Kittle: “Wow, I am so happy, he is on my team.” So, here are my three favorite Mookie memories:
3. Mookie Betts throws out Kevin Kiermaier trying to stretch a double into a triple
This certainly isn’t one of his top-10 plays he ever made, but I remember this play vividly. I was watching the Red Sox cling to a 2-1 lead in the bottom of the eighth inning over the Tampa Bay Rays. It was Aug. 23, 2016, and the Red Sox had not made the playoffs since their 2013 playoff run. It was a key divisional game and it looked like, when Kiermaier laced an offering down the right field line, the Red Sox were headed for another bullpen collapse. Instead, Betts grabbed the ball in the corner, spun and fired a one-hop strike to third base to nab Kiermaier. The throw clocked in at over 95 mph. Any slower and any less accurate, and Kiermaier would have been aboard with a leadoff triple. It was one of the best throws I’ve ever seen. Combined with the importance of the situation and the game, it’s one of my favorite memories of Betts out of all the games he roamed right field for the Sox.
2. The 13-pitch battle with JA Happ cumulates in grand slam
“I’m telling you … it’s time to partyyyyyy!” The echoes of Dave O’Brien’s call of this legendary Mookie moment still send shivers down my spine. The Sox were facing the Toronto Blue Jays and trailed 2-1 in the fourth inning. Despite all the magic the Red Sox had experienced in their 2018 season so far, it was tough to be facing a deficit at home against a bad Toronto team, especially with J.A. Happ — a very tough lefty, toeing the rubber for the Blue Jays. Boston loaded the bases for Betts, and what happened next was as heart stopping as baseball gets. Betts quickly saw two strikes fly by, but he spoiled several offerings and worked the count full. After fouling off a low off-speed pitch, Betts prepared to see the 13th pitch of the at-bat. Happ came with an inside fastball and Betts did what every Sox fan got so used to seeing him do: He turned on the heater and launched it over the Green Monster for a massive grand slam. The usually composed Mookie tossed his bat and shuffled down the first base line, screaming towards the Red Sox dugout. O’Brien made the moment even better with an amazing call. In all the magical moments of that 2018 season, that grand slam is easily one of the best.
1. Mookie’s final play in a Boston uniform
When it happened, it had the feeling of a good-bye. In a meaningless final regular season game, the Red Sox were tied with the Orioles heading into the bottom of the ninth at Fenway. Mookie led off with a single, bringing up Rafael Devers. Devers chopped a single that deflected off the shortstop and into short right field. Betts wheeled to third base, which would have already put the Red Sox in good position to walk it off, but Mookie wasn’t done. As most would assume, the Orioles assumed Mookie was staying at third. The right fielder tossed the ball casually toward the infield, and Mookie took off for home. He finished his sprint around the bases with a headfirst dive into home to beat the throw and win the game for the Sox. Betts leaped up and let out a celebratory roar. If that doesn’t describe Mookie — making a gutsy hustle play to win a game that had no meaning. He could have quit on the season, on the Red Sox, but that’s not the way Mookie plays or ever played while he was in Boston. He stayed the Mookie we knew and loved straight through to the end.
When I watched Betts wheel around the bases for the game-winning run last October, I hoped desperately it wasn’t the last play I would see Mookie make in a Red Sox uniform even though it had that feel. I still hope that this isn’t goodbye, that maybe Betts will still come back in free agency and this is simply a, ‘See you later.’
But that might be a longshot hope. For now, I will simply remember the good times, and just say, “Thank you, Mookie.”
The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.