HOUSTON — Rafael Devers spent a good part of last winter working on his English and was proud to show it off when he reported to spring training.
We had several conversations about different topics, but Devers asked that we use a translator for any formal interviews.
That’s understandable. Latin American stars are in such a spotlight back home that they are careful not to say anything that would unintentionally cause a controversy.
But over the course of spring training, Devers was speaking English so well that we made an agreement: If the Red Sox made it to the World Series, he’d give me his first English interview. What did he have to lose? Most of the supposed experts, myself included, had the Sox finishing third or fourth.
Over the course of April and May, as the Sox steadily improved, I jokingly reminded Devers about our deal, and he’d laugh.
Now the Sox are in the ALCS. So maybe it’ll happen.
Let’s pause here for a second to acknowledge that I should spend the winter learning to speak at least rudimentary Spanish. I’d be a much better baseball reporter if I could converse with Latin players in their native language.
Over the years I’ve picked up a few phrases but not enough to do an interview. I took Spanish in college because it was required but long ago forgot what little I learned. If only I knew then I was going to become a baseball writer.
However it’s done, Devers has a story that deserves to be told in detail. At 24, the third baseman stands with Ronald Acuña Jr., Vladimir Guerrero Jr., Juan Soto, and Fernando Tatis Jr as one of the brightest young stars in the game.
Devers came into the ALCS with a .925 OPS, five home runs and 20 RBIs in 20 career postseason games. Only three other players — Albert Pujols, Carlos Correa and Andruw Jones — had 20 or more RBIs in the postseason before turning 25.
Devers was 6 for 20 with two homers and six RBIs in the first two rounds of the playoffs this season despite what appears to be a nerve issue in his right forearm that causes discomfort when he swings and misses.
That the Sox had three days off before facing the Houston Astros will help with that.
“I believe so. I believe so,” manager Alex Cora said. “I think it’s going to help him.”
Devers went 2 for 5 with a run scored in Friday night’s Game 1, but grounded out to end the Red Sox’ 5-4 loss.
“One thing about all this stuff, I like the fact that his power is not actually pull-side anymore,” Cora said. “It’s still there, but he has been able to drive the ball to left center and to center field.
“The two homers in Washington [in the final series of the regular season], the two homers against the Rays, he has been able to stay on pitches and use the middle of the field.”
David Ortiz has spoken to Devers about how to handle both playing with an injury and remaining productive.
“I think it’s just him understanding what the opposition is going to do to him, kind of recognize him as the guy that we don’t want him to beat us,” Cora said. “I do believe he has done an amazing job staying within himself. There are certain times that he swings out of control, but I think overall since Washington and then the Wild Card Game and then the ALDS, he has been under control using the whole field.”
No player compares to Ortiz. But Devers has similar fearlessness in a big spot and the ability to laugh at himself. There are days when Devers will slam his helmet in frustration after striking out then come back to the ballpark the next day smiling.
That’s part of what makes him so good.
“He’s a special hitter,” teammate Xander Bogaerts said. “A lot of us feel he doesn’t get the credit he deserves sometimes.”
I reminded Devers of our bargain before Game 1 on Friday night.
“Of course,” he said in English. “Four more wins.”