Mike Trout wasn't the best all-around player in baseball this year. Mookie Betts was. That is saying plenty, just because there is so little left to say about Trout. And when the Red Sox needed Betts to show up on Sunday night at Fenway Park and turn the American League
Mike Trout wasn't the best all-around player in baseball this year. Mookie Betts was. That is saying plenty, just because there is so little left to say about Trout. And when the Red Sox needed Betts to show up on Sunday night at Fenway Park and turn the American League Championship Series into a best-of-five series, that is exactly what he did.
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Betts doubled off the wall in center field in the first inning, and before the frame was over, the Red Sox led Game 2 of the ALCS, 2-0. He doubled again in the eighth, and provided Boston with an insurance run it would need a few minutes later when Craig Kimbrel once again looked like the least reliable relief pitcher the Red Sox have right now, as opposed to being their best.
On a night when Boston, after 112 victories this season, needed a victory more than it ever had, the offense began and ended with its gifted streak-of-light right fielder.
"October keeps giving you chances to do something they'll remember," Reggie Jackson, Mr. October himself, said on Tuesday night at Yankee Stadium, before Betts and the Red Sox closed out the Yankees. "Then some can, and some can't."
Betts showed he could Sunday night, when his team needed him most. Jackie Bradley Jr., who plays next to Betts in the outfield, had the biggest hit of this game, a three-run double that put Boston ahead, 5-4. Then Matt Barnes, Ryan Brasier and Rick Porcello came out of the bullpen to make that lead stand up before Kimbrel turned another postseason ninth into a theme-park ride. But on offense, Betts was opener and closer Sunday night, and the Red Sox evened the ALCS before the series shifts to Minute Maid Park.
The Astros' two best players -- with absolutely no disrespect meant to George Springer, who keeps hitting like Houston's Mr. October -- have to show up at Minute Maid the way Betts did Sunday night. That means José Altuve, the AL MVP Award winner in 2017, and Alex Bregman, the Astros' MVP this season.
Bregman has been on base plenty in the first two games of this ALCS, and he scored two runs Saturday night in Game 1. But he has yet to get a hit. Altuve has one hit and one RBI (in the ninth on Sunday night) across the first two games. It is a small sampling, of course, just two games. But Betts didn't just hit on Sunday night. He hit those two doubles with force. Now Altuve and Bregman have the chance to hit that way in their home park.
The history of October baseball is full of unlikely heroes. It is a part of the charm and part of the drama of this time of year. But you know what? It's filled with way more likely stars, like Reggie. And sometimes when your stars let you down, the way Giancarlo Stanton did in the first October of his life with the Yankees, your team loses. Stanton wasn't the only reason the Yankees lost to the Red Sox in the AL Division Series, but he didn't do very much to help them win, either.
Bregman was all over the bases on Saturday night. Altuve got a late RBI knock on Sunday. Houston is going to need more from them to beat the Red Sox, even if the Astros came into this series looking like the more complete team, despite having won fewer games than Boston during the regular season.
In the interview room after Game 2, someone mentioned to Betts that Houston manager AJ Hinch had referred to him as a "ticking time bomb" before the game.
Betts: "I mean, it is what it is. I just go out and do what I can to help the team win, try and be consistent in having some good at-bats and getting some timely hits and whatnot. But it's not just me. We've got 25 guys out here to win."
It is the same with the Astros. The beauty of their batting order is its depth and variety, from the time Springer leads off. Marwin Gonzalez hit a two-run homer off Game 2 starter David Price that traveled nearly 400 feet in the third inning. When Boston manager Alex Cora finally got Price out of the game in the fifth, one of the reasons was that Gonzalez was coming to the plate. With two runners on, Cora went with Barnes. Barnes struck out Gonzalez. The Red Sox still had the lead.
Josh Reddick homered for the Astros on Saturday. Yuli Gurriel hit a three-run homer off Brandon Workman that made it 7-2 for Houston in Game 1. Betts said it's not just him. It's not just Bregman and Altuve. They still need to hit more at Minute Maid Park than they did at Fenway Park.
Starting in the bottom of the first, Betts set the table and the tone for the Red Sox, even if the Astros would get the lead later, when Gonzalez hit his big home run off Price. Betts, Boston's best, showed up.
Bregman nearly responded in the top of the ninth when he hit a deep fly ball to left with Houston trailing, 7-5. That one didn't get out of Fenway. That one didn't clip the Green Monster on the way down. Not his night. Maybe in Houston. Reggie was right. October keeps giving you chances to do something they'll remember.
Mike Lupica is a columnist for MLB.com.