KANSAS CITY — Baseball players, a superstitious bunch, will do most anything to change their luck. So before Thursday afternoon’s game against the Kansas City Royals, Mookie Betts took a small sip of a Pure Green Wake Me Up Shot then poured the rest over his bat.
Betts drew a walk in the first inning then belted a two-run homer to left field in the third to help the Red Sox to a 7-5 victory.
Did a few ounces of ginger, lemon and cayenne help Betts get his season going? Something has to.
It would be inaccurate to say Betts is having a poor season, not with an .849 OPS and his usual Gold Glove defense in right field.
But Betts sighed when asked how he’s feeling at the plate.
“Not that good,” he said. “Just been trying to grind and do what I can to help the team score some runs. It seems like everybody else has been plugging along and I’m bringing up the rear.”
Never mind that Betts leads the Red Sox in walks and is second in runs and third in extra-base hits. He’s a tortured baseball artist who laments the failures far more than he celebrates the successes.
“I feel fine physically. I’m comfortable. I’m just not doing anything right,” Betts said. “It’s been tough.”
Betts was 2 of 11 in a three-game sweep of the Royals. But his homer tied the game and the Sox built a lead from there.
Still, Betts left Kauffman Stadium a bit irked that a ball he lined to left field in the eighth inning was right at Alex Gordon. That would have been over his head last season.
“I just have to live with that one,” Betts said. “I did everything right but get a hit.”
Two hits over three days against one of the worst teams in baseball isn’t much to get excited about. But manager Alex Cora saw progress because Betts drew three walks and swung at pitches that were in the strike zone.
“That’s something we like,” Cora said. “We’ll go home and hopefully he’ll hit a few line drives off that wall and get going.”
Betts would like to see those good swings produce more hits and plate discipline is a good place to start.
“It feels like it’s a matter of time when you’re swinging at good pitches,” he said. “Fortunately we have other guys in our lineup — Xander [Bogaerts], [Rafael] Devers and J.D. [Martinez] — you have to stop right now. They’ve been carrying us all year for sure.
“I feel like I’m just not doing anything with the pitches that I’m getting. I have to keep taking good swings and hopefully that changes.”
Betts hit .346 with a 1.078 OPS last season, leading the Sox to 108 victories. Then came the World Series and a runaway victory for Most Valuable Player over the great Mike Trout.
Betts also was the first player in history to win a batting title and have a 30/30 season.
No player can expect to replicate that level of achievement. But surely it’s reasonable to expect that Betts will produce better over the final 100 games than he did over the first 62?
“I don’t think it works that way,” he said. “That’s too far in advance. I can only control what I can control and that’s right now, the next game.
“Expectations get put on you and that’s not always reality. I know what kind of player I am and I know what I can do. But you can’t let the outside expectations dictate who you are. You have to control that.”
For Betts, that means approaching the game as it comes, doing something in the moment to help score a run or prevent one. Don’t look beyond that.
“Be consistent. Be the guy who finds a way,” he said. “Right now I’m not necessarily doing that. But what I can do is score a run or get a hit or draw a walk.”
The goal is not to return to the All-Star Game for the fourth consecutive year or win more awards. It’s to do as many little things that will add up to those big things.
“That all comes at the end,” Betts said. “You hope.”
One way to look at the 33-29 Red Sox is to consider that they’re still in the mix for a playoff spot with their best player resorting to Pedro Cerrano tactics in the clubhouse.
If Thursday was the start of something and Betts gets going, anything is possible for this team.