Monday night was supposed to be Andrew Benintendi’s return to Fenway — an opportunity for fans to reevaluate last summer’s trade that sent him to the Kansas City Royals for Franchy Cordero and four minor leaguers.
The left fielder didn’t make the trip to Boston, however, as he nursed a right rib fracture he suffered in mid-June.
Instead, it became Hunter Renfroe’s night.
If Benintendi had remained in Boston, Renfroe would likely be splitting time in the outfield. But now he is an everyday player. The trade has given Renfroe a significant opportunity, and he’s made the most of it.
That was the case Monday night with the Red Sox down 5-2 in the fourth inning, Renfroe hit a 439-foot home run into center field, driving in Xander Bogaerts to bring the game within one. In the bottom of the sixth, he sent a curveball 434-feet to left field that bounced off the National Car Rental insurance sign. The run gave the Sox their first lead en route to a 6-5 win over the Royals.
“We wanted to win that game and put ourselves in a good situation moving forward,” Renfroe said. “We got some timely hits when we needed to. ... We knew with our offense we can put a lot of points on the board, whether we hit home runs or singles. We knew we were in a good situation after a few homers, and we liked the way our pitchers were throwing the ball and just kept at it.”
The second homer was his eleventh of the year and his first multiple-homer game since Aug. 13 with the Rays at — of course — Fenway Park. It was also the third multiple-homer game run by a Red Sox player this year.
Renfroe said his multiple-homer game last year with the Rays at Fenway was very similar to Monday night’s game, but he joked about the difference in the distance the ball traveled.
“One [home run] was a lot further than a lot of these,” he said with a smile. “Kind of the same conditions, it was hot then I felt good at the plate then, I felt good now.”
Renfroe finished 2-for-4 with two home runs and three RBI. Cora praised Renfroe post-game, calling him one of the team’s best players.
“He’s been doing this for a while,” Cora said. “The last two months, he’s been playing All-Star caliber baseball, and we know what he can do defensively. …The way he’s playing, people need to start recognizing him as one of our best players — we always talk about four guys — but he’s been amazing these past two months.”
Renfroe hasn’t always looked great this season. In 19 games in March and April, he put up a .167/.235.250 line and only one hit home run.
With Cordero in the minor leagues and Benintendi playing well in Kansas City, hitting 283/.340/.429 with eight home runs, six doubles, 31 RBIs, and 19 walks in 60 games, it looked like the Sox were on the wrong side of the trade .
In 49 games since May 1, however, Renfroe’s game has significantly improved. He’s batting .307 with a .910 OPS, with ten home runs and 32 RBI’s. Before Sunday’s 0-for-3 performance against the Yankees, Renfroe had been on a six-game hitting streak.
“I’m seeing the ball as good as I’ve seen it in a long time,” Renfroe said. “I like where I am right now. I’m swinging the bat well and seeing the ball well. I think that’s the most important part — seeing the ball before you hit it. I just got to keep going, staying with my approach, staying with my routine in the cage, and staying healthy.”
Garrett Richards, who played with Renfroe in San Diego, said Renfroe’s emphasis on the defensive side of the ball makes him unique.
“That’s the vibe I get from him. He gets more fired up throwing somebody out at the plate than he does hitting a homer,” Richards said. “He’s an incredible player. He takes more pride in his defense than in his offense which you don’t really see a whole lot of at this level. He really loves to play plus-defense, and as a pitcher, I love that.”
Kris Rhim can be reached at email@example.com.