NEW YORK — Let’s just go ahead and call this what it is:
The free-falling Red Sox are in full-blown panic mode. After Friday night’s Rollover Beethoven, three-hit shutout loss to the immortal Vidal Nuno, Sox general manager Ben Cherington and manager John Farrell got together and decided to call up Markus Lynn “Mookie” Betts.
This is what the fans want. This is what the fans need. And so the Sox summoned a 5-foot-9-inch, 156-pound, 21-year-old kid who has played exactly 77 games above Single A ball. They called up a kid who was not invited to the big league clubhouse in spring training. They called up the next Sox phenom, an innocent successor in the Sox’ conga line of mega-hyped prospects named Juan Bustabad, Chico Walker, Brady Anderson, Frankie Rodriguez, Lars Anderson, Jackie Bradley Jr., and Xander Bogaerts. Some of them worked out. Some didn’t. Now it’s Mookie’s turn.
No team overrates its prospects like the Red Sox and no fan group is more eager to see the next generation of stars than the citizens of Red Sox Nation. And so Sunday night the Sox will feed the beast and feature Mookie Betts as a starting right fielder in Yankee Stadium on national television. (Like the Army-Navy football game, irrelevent Sox-Yankee games still get the national TV treatment.) Converted from second base this year, Betts has played two professional games in right field.
The big shocker in all this is that Betts was not in the starting lineup Saturday. With Betts on the bench, Jon Lester outdueled Masahiro Tanaka and beat the Yanks, 2-1, thanks to Mike Napoli’s two-out solo homer in the ninth inning. Lester and Tanaka were both terrific and the Sox probably did Mookie a favor by keeping him away from Tanaka.
“We wanted to give him a day to get his feet on the ground,’’ explained Farrell.
Fresh off the Pawtucket express, Betts was in the Sox clubhouse at 3:45 p.m. Saturday. He was assigned No. 50, most famously worn by Mike Timlin, who is almost a foot taller than Mookie Betts. Betts said he got the call to the bigs from Pawtucket manager Kevin Boles on Friday night.
“I was in the hotel with my fiance and [Boles] told me to come back to the field,’’ said Betts. “He said something had happened and that kind of scared me. Once I got there, he let me know, and the rest is history.’’
Betts has played only 23 games of Triple A baseball. Since the Sox moved him off second base, he has played 29 games as an outfielder (27 in center). Between 2013 and 2014 he reached base in 71 consecutive games. He hit .322 for Pawtucket. He has only 90 Triple A at-bats. The Sox cannot afford to wait.
“I think I’m as ready as I’m gonna get,’’ said Betts. “Only time will tell. Only getting out there and playing and learning more will tell if I was ready or not, but the front office thinks I’m ready so I have to feel like I’m ready as well.’’
He was asked if he felt he’d mastered the right field position after just two games.
“I wouldn’t say I’ve mastered it,’’ Betts answered pleasantly. “I think just going and getting reads in BP and shagging and talking with some guys, I should be OK.’’
Swell. What could go wrong with that?
Betts was born in Nashville and grew up near the campus of Vanderbilt. He was set to play at the University of Tennessee when the Sox drafted him in the fifth round in 2011.
He played in Lowell in 2012 and in Greenville and Salem last summer. His parents dubbed him “Mookie’’ in honor of former NBA guard Mookie Blaylock.
“Everybody thinks it is because of Mookie Wilson, which is probably not a good thing for the Red Sox,’’ said Betts. “That [Wilson’s grounder that rolled between the legs of Bill Buckner and into history] was a little bit before my time, but I’m aware of it . . . I know everyone around me has confidence in me and they’ve told me just to go out and play. That’s all I can do.’’
Betts’s parents and fiance are in New York for his big league debut.
“I’m here just to contribute,’’ he said. “This team is a good team. It’s not on me. It’s going to be a group effort.’’
“He isn’t looked upon as a savior of the Red Sox,’’ explained Farrell.
“He does some things that give him a chance to come up and compete here,’’ said Cherington.
“We’re trying to build a better team and we think he can be part of it . . . I don’t think we can be gun-shy about calling up a young player we believe in. Based on Mookie’s performance, we felt like this made sense now.’’
Give the Sox credit for recruiting mature, well-mannered young men. Like Bradley and Bogaerts, Betts could not be more polite or cooperative. And like all the other Sox prospects, he comes to the big leagues with rave reviews.
Hope he’s more Bogaerts than Bustabad.