When scouts used to watch Mookie Betts play second base in the minors most of them thought one thing: Gold Glove.
He had the range, the arm, the smarts. He could turn a double play. But as he became a really good hitter and with Dustin Pedroia having signed a long-term contract, the Red Sox decided they needed to move him to the outfield. First it was center, and then he became a Gold Glove right fielder, with off-the-charts analytics at the position.
So when newly acquired Ian Kinsler left Friday night’s game against the Yankees after one inning with a sore hamstring, acting manager Ron Roenicke (Alex Cora was ejected in the first inning) decided to shift first baseman Steve Pearce to right field and brought Betts in to play second base.
“It was like a dream come true,” Betts said. “Haven’t been there since 2014. That’s why I take my ground balls, just in case.”
Kinsler, who walked, stole second, and scored on Eduardo Nunez’s single in the first inning, did not return because of left hamstring tightness.
Former Red Sox manager John Farrell was afraid to use Betts at second because he didn’t want him to get hurt playing a position he hadn’t played for several years.
“I can’t speak for John,” said Cora, who said he agreed with Roenicke’s decision to play Betts at second. “I respect John. I respect the way he managed the team. I’m a different manager. It’s not that I don’t agree with him, but I do things a little different,” Cora said.
Cora didn’t seem to think it would be a health risk to let Betts play in the infield. Cora revealed Betts volunteers to play second and third.
“He works at it,” Cora said. “He takes ground balls. He’s an athlete. This wasn’t a regular thing. Ian comes out and we want to stay away from Xander [Bogaerts] and Ron wanted to put him at second and I was OK with it.”
Pearce had actually played some second base, but has never been very good there. Pearce told Roenicke he was more comfortable going to right field.
So why not put the best athlete on the field back to his old position? Betts played 14 games at second base at the end of the 2014 season when Pedroia was on the disabled list.
Betts moved back to right in the eighth inning and Bogaerts was brought in to play shortstop, with Brock Holt moving to second base. The Red Sox didn’t want Bogaerts to bat to protect his injured hand.
Betts was also involved in Cora’s ejection in the first inning. After Luis Severino came in high and tight with a pitch to Betts, which caused umpires to warn both benches, Cora went into a rage and he was tossed.
“Up and in . . . maybe it slipped . . . not sure,” Betts said. “I stepped into the box and got ready for the next pitch.”
Betts said he wasn’t expecting the pitch or retaliation for Brett Gardner getting hit by a pitch to lead off the game. “I mean it was an 0-and-2 pitch [to Gardner]. Obviously there was no intention there. Porcello went out and just pitched so well after that.”
Betts wasn’t reluctant to ask Roenicke for a chance to return to his old position.
“I don’t know if he [Roenicke] told me. I kind of asked if I could go to second. He told me ‘Are you sure?’ I said,’Yeah.’ I put on my infield glove. He told me you’re at second. Before I went out on the field I asked him again, so you want me to go out to second? He said yes. I wasn’t really sure he wanted me to go to second, but I ran out there . . . it was fun.”
He remembered the day in the minors when the Red Sox told him he needed to switch to the outfield.
“I was kind of sad,” Betts said. “It’s something I had grown up playing and now I had to go do something else. [Friday night] was definitely a dream come true.”
Of course, he was tested immediately. The first batter of the second inning, Aaron Hicks, grounded to Betts, who cleanly made the play to first baseman Mitch Moreland.
“I’m fielding a thousand,” Betts joked about the possibility of winning a Gold Glove at second base as well.
Roenicke asked third base coach Carlos Febles about using Betts since Febles managed Betts as a second baseman at Single A Greenville.
“He has enough games under his belt at that position,” Febles said. “He also played a little second base in the big leagues when Pedroia got hurt, 14 games. It’s nothing new for him. I know he hasn’t been there in three, four years, but at the same time, it’s like riding a bike. It’s something you never forget. It was fun for him to go over there.”
Febles compared Betts’s excitement to a kid with a new toy.
“He was so happy. You know when you’re a kid who gets a new toy? That was him tonight. He was so grateful to have the opportunity to play in the infield like you couldn’t believe. To see him out there and doing well, it made me feel good and proud,” Febles said.