It’s not Alex Verdugo’s fault.
He didn’t ask to be the so-called “big” name the Red Sox received from the Dodgers in the infamous Mookie Betts swap.
And it’s certainly not his fault that he doesn’t possess the generational, Hall of Fame-caliber talent that Betts has.
But during this weekend’s “Mookie’s Back” showcase, credit Verdugo with rising to the occasion.
In the Red Sox’ 8-5 victory over Los Angeles on Saturday, Verdugo led off with a home run.
Impressive in its own right for the lefthanded hitter, considering it came against southpaw Julio Urias, the line drive he laced over Betts’s head into the Dodgers’ bullpen marked the third straight game Verdugo’s led off the game with a home run.
No other Red Sox player, not even Betts, has pulled off that feat.
And just two others in baseball history — Ronald Acuna Jr. and Brady Anderson — have managed to do it.
“It’s weird to think it’s been three games in a row with one,” Verdugo said. “But at the end of the day, just trying to handle my business, get ready for the game the best I can, do my scouting report on the pitchers and put myself in a good position to succeed.”
It’s no secret that at other times this season Verdugo’s put himself in a bad position to succeed in his relationship with manager Alex Cora.
Whether it was not hustling on the basepaths or getting benched for showing up late to the ballpark, Verdugo has forced Cora to spend more time managing his lapses than other players this season.
Pulling the strings to coax the best out of Verdugo is part of that challenge, and it played out on Saturday.
With Verdugo struggling entering Saturday against lefthanded pitching — zero homers, a .230 batting average and .621 OPS vs. 11 homers, .302 batting average and .859 OPS against righties — the 27-year-old checked in with Cora after Friday night’s game to ask about Saturday with Urias on the mound.
Cora said Verdugo came in thinking he wasn’t going to play, but “I was ‘No, no, you’re playing,’ he was like ‘Lower in the lineup?’ I was, ‘No, you’re leading off,’ ” Cora recalled.
Verdugo had a different take on the exchange, saying “I expected to be in there and I told him I want to be in there but I just didn’t know where I was going to go with the lineup.”
Maybe some future ESPN 30 for 30 can get to the bottom of what really was said, but both the plan and the execution worked out.
“He’s in a good spot right now,” said Cora. “He got a breaking ball up in the zone, put a good swing on it. He’s up to the series. For everything we’ve been talking about the other guy, he’s part of the whole trade and the history of Dodgers-Red Sox. He’s excited about it.”
Verdugo agreed to that.
“Once I saw that I was leading off, man, it just fires me up,” said Verdugo. “I still feel like I can hit lefties and righties and have good at-bats against them. The outcome might not always be there [but] the process of it, working pitchers, I feel like I do a good job.”
At a time when the spotlight’s trained on Betts and in a season when the spotlight, at times, has not been flattering to Verdugo, he used the moment to make his own distinct and positive mark in Red Sox history.
“It’s cool, especially for me — I’m not a home run hitter, so to see that and know that is pretty cool,” said Verdugo of his spot in Red Sox history. “But at the end, it’s not like I’m overthinking it or anything like that, it’s just a good little stretch right there in the leadoff spot, so we need to keep on having good at-bats and keep squaring up the ball.”
Michael Silverman can be reached at email@example.com.