WASHINGTON — In so many respects, Rafael Devers still comes across as the kid in the Red Sox clubhouse. He still arrives at the park with a beaming countenance, joyful both in being part of the team and in the opportunity to compete.
Yet last week, he arrived at a career milestone that reinforced his distinctive place in the organization. August 9 marked the 10th anniversary of Devers signing with the Sox as a 16-year-old out of the Dominican Republic.
“That’s a moment I’ll never forget,” Devers reflected through a translator on Tuesday afternoon at Nationals Park.
Devers signed with the belief that he could be a standout player, but admitted that he wouldn’t have dared to imagine what he’s become: A two-time All-Star third baseman who, at 26, has emerged as the centerpiece on the Red Sox roster as defined both by a contract north of $300 million that runs through 2033 and the fact that opposing teams circle him as the “don’t let him beat you” force in the middle of the lineup.
“I just wanted to show up, play baseball, and try to get called up as fast as possible because of the work I was putting in,” said Devers, who went 0 for 2 with a pair of walks, a run, and a key defensive play in the Sox’ 5-4 win. “My goal back then, and still today, is to show up and play baseball. I never thought that everything was going to happen the way that it happened with the contract and everything. I never expected to be a leader.”
Yet Devers has grown into considerable responsibility with the team. He understands his place and what he is capable of doing at his best.
If he needed any reminders of that notion, the venue where he’s currently playing offered them. Nationals Park served as the setting for Devers’s most remarkable day in the big leagues. On the final day of the 2021 regular season, he went 4 for 5 with two homers while driving in four runs as the Sox beat the Nationals, 7-5, to clinch a playoff berth.
“The way he was hitting the ball, and obviously with one arm, it was unreal,” said Sox manager Alex Cora, referring to the right forearm discomfort that often left Devers dropping his bat down the stretch that year.
“Obviously it was a special moment for me,” said Devers. “But we need to keep working to keep having those kinds of special moments, special memories not only here but everywhere.”
That statement represented a nod to Devers’s puzzling 2023 season. He’s hit for power (26 homers, 4th in the AL) and been a formidable run producer (79 RBI, 4th in the AL), yet his performance has been uneven while he’s adjusted to life as the unquestioned target of opposing pitching staffs.
In July, it appeared as if Devers was ready to make a push to carry the Sox. He hit .354/.411/.646. But while he’s continued to get on base at an elite level in August — refusing to expand the strike zone when baited by opposing pitchers — he’s driven in just three runs this month, a product of the paucity of opportunities he’s had with men in scoring position and how opposing teams are attacking.
“I wish I could stay hot the whole year but we know that this is baseball. You have your ups and downs,” said Devers. “I wish that I could stay hot 162 games. But we know that time is going to come. We know that I’m gonna get hot and I’m going to help the team to win some games down the stretch.”
The return of Justin Turner and Trevor Story to the lineup could help in that undertaking. With the two righthanders now bookending Devers in the lineup, opposing managers will have less freedom to turn to lefthanded relievers against Devers.
The return of Story and others has given Devers optimism about the possibilities now coming into view over the final month and a half of the season.
“We’re beating everybody’s expectations at this point,” said Devers. “Nobody in the league thought that we were going to be this good — nobody [running] the projections, nobody in the press, not anybody. We’re in a good position right now, and I think everybody in this clubhouse is ready to give their 100 percent to keep winning games.”
Devers, of course, will have a huge influence on the team’s fortunes — carrying the sort of responsibility that highlights his growth over a decade in the Red Sox organization.
“I think [the 16-year-old version of me] would be very proud of who I am today,” said Devers. “I always give my best to the organization. I’ve never been a headache to the organization. That’s something that the Raffy of 16 years old would be proud of right now. And I’m proud of where I am today.”