BOSTON -- Once again on Friday night, Mookie Betts got caught up in that zone that only the elite athletes can truly relate to. The star right fielder could feel himself just playing on instinct and his lightning-quick wrists and powerful bat did the rest.
The result? Betts launched homers over the Green Monster in each of his first three at-bats against Yankees lefty James Paxton at Fenway Park, powering the Red Sox to a 10-5 drubbing of their rivals.
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Remarkably for Betts, it was the fifth time he has hit three homers in a game, as he extended his own club record. Only eight players in MLB history have had five games with three homers or more.
What does it feel like to get in that state?
"You're not really thinking," said Betts. "That's the main thing, you kind of turn your brain off and just play. That's when everybody is at their best."
Betts would be the first to acknowledge he hasn't been able to turn his brain off enough in 2019. He was expending a lot of energy trying to figure out why he couldn't recapture the results he had in that magical season of a year ago, when he hit .346 with 32 homers and seemed to be slump-proof.
Betts looks like he is getting back to that point. After an inconsistent first three months of the season, Betts is smoking-hot at the moment, hitting .395 in July with five homers, 17 RBIs and a 1.175 OPS. For the season, Betts now has a sturdy line of .289/.399/.507 with 18 homers and 54 RBIs.
It is hard enough to hold Rafael Devers and Xander Bogaerts down, but now that Betts is hitting like an MVP again, the Red Sox look truly dangerous.
"It's always cool when he smiles on the field," said Red Sox manager Alex Cora. "Today was one of those big nights. Hopefully this is the beginning of something great here."
The night started with some good vibes, as Betts entertained Nico Sapienza, a 10-year-old from Saugus, Mass., who was there as a guest of the Make-A-Wish Foundation. Sapienza's wish was to meet Betts.
But Betts made sure that Sapienza also met several of his teammates during batting practice, and Cora. Once the game started, Sapienza hoped to see his hero go deep in person. Betts wound up giving him that thrill, times three.
"I'm glad he came," Betts said. "He was our good luck charm. He's a great kid. I think him and his family had fun down in BP, and I think if I can kind of use the platform that I have to make people smile like that, then I know I've done something well."
Friday was one of those days Betts excelled on and off the field.
"Mookie, besides being a great player, he's a great person. And that's what he does," Cora said. "Everybody knows what he did in the World Series last year after Game 1 [by bringing food to a homeless shelter]. He's a guy with a great heart."
And a dangerous bat.
With just one more three-homer game, the 26-year-old Betts will tie Johnny Mize and Sammy Sosa for the most ever. Alex Rodriguez, Mark McGwire, Dave Kingman, Carlos Delgado and Joe Carter are the others who have done it five times.
"Any time your name is in the history books you know you've done something well," said Betts.
It was the fourth straight night in MLB that someone had a three-homer game, with Betts joining Robinson Cano, Paul DeJong and Nelson Cruz.
"It's crazy just to see it once. But I guess to see it four straight days, there's a lot of good hitters out there and they're showing it," said Betts.
Backed by the rejuvenation of Betts (4-for-5, four runs, five RBIs, 14 total bases) and the starting rotation (Andrew Cashner got his first Boston win in this one), the defending World Series champions are starting to resemble the team everyone thought they would be in the first place.
A season-high 11 games above .500 (58-47), the Sox are still nine behind the Yankees for the top spot in the American League East after belting them around Fenway in the first two games of this four-game set. But the Sox are now just a half-game back for the second spot in the AL Wild Card standings.
"Now is the time," said Betts. "It's late. Or getting later. You have to start stringing together some wins, and we're doing that."
Friday was less about the standings and more about Betts putting on an absolute show. Betts was two bases shy of Fred Lynn's Red Sox record of 16 total bases in a game, set on June 18, 1975. Dustin Pedroia was the most recent Red Sox batter to get 15, doing so on June 24, 2010, vs. the Rockies.
Betts wasted no time thrilling the Fenway faithful, going deep in the first, third and fourth innings against a bewildered Paxton.
"He just wasn't missing," said Paxton.
With the crowd roaring behind Betts in hopes he could become the first player in Red Sox history to hit four homers in a game, they watched him belt an RBI double in the sixth and ground to third in the eighth.
Betts felt the love.
"Just a lot of energy," said Betts. "It's great to know that your home crowd is paying that much attention."
When Betts is in that zone, all of Red Sox Nation takes notice.
Ian Browne has covered the Red Sox for MLB.com since 2002. Follow him on Twitter @IanMBrowne and Facebook.