Partly out of instinct, partly out of self-awareness, Mookie Betts broke out of the batter’s box at top speed as soon as he saw his fly ball heading toward the Green Monster.
With no outs and A.J. Pierzynski on first in the fifth inning Wednesday night, Carlos Villanueva left a changeup chest high, and Betts put the best swing he had on it.
But he knew there was only so much power in his 5-foot-9-inch frame.
“I don’t think I’m a home run hitter, so any time I hit it, I take off sprinting,” he said.
Betts was halfway to second base when the ball finally landed in the back of the Monster seats. He rounded the bases so quickly for his first major league home run, he nearly beat Pierzynski to the plate.
“When I touched home plate, I think I kind of startled A.J. because as soon as he turned around I was right there,” Betts said.
They chuckled on the way back to the dugout, but the laughs only lasted so long. Betts’s homer had cut a five-run deficit to three, but the hole would only get larger, and the Sox never could find a way out.
Hitting his first career home run in a 16-9 loss left Betts with mixed feelings.
“Came at a bad time, but it felt great,” he said.
Betts became the 32d Red Sox player to hit his first homer before his 22d birthday.
“I got around the bases so fast, it didn’t really hit me until I got in the dugout, then I got to kind of sit and think that I got my first one,” he said.
Betts’s 2 for 5 came on a night when the Sox racked up 16 hits, yet still lost a slugfest with a Cubs team that ran its hit count to 19.
“We were down so many runs, you know, just one run at a time just try to get a rally started,” Betts said.
After getting a hit in his first major league game last Sunday in New York, Betts went hitless in his next seven at-bats. He’s had to make adjustments, not necessarily to the new level but to the new atmosphere.
“It’s the same game essentially, but yeah, it feel a little different knowing that you’ve got a Red Sox jersey on and you’re at Fenway,” Betts said. “But you’ve got to kind of get past that and understand that it is the same game.”
One thing Betts didn’t have to worry about was getting the ball he hit for his first home run back from the fan, Chris Large, who grabbed it.
As it turned out, Betts played against Large in a summer league when he was a high schooler.
“He said as soon as he got it, he wanted to find a way to get it to me, and I really appreciate that,” Betts said.Julian Benbow can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.