Mookie Betts turned to the fans, let out a jubilant yell and pounded his right fist against his chest three times before his teammates mobbed him at home plate on Sunday afternoon.
It was a joyous moment at the end of a disappointing season, Betts dashing fearlessly around the bases in the bottom of the ninth inning to give the Red Sox a 5-4 victory against the Baltimore Orioles.
It was hard not to wonder whether it was the final time Betts will play for the Sox.
Betts has so far turned aside offers to extend his contract and could be traded this offseason, a possibility that gained momentum last week when ownership announced a desire to cut payroll.
But watching Betts ignite the crowd with the kind of daring and skill few other players possess also raised a second point: How can you trade a player like that?
“We’ll see what happens. But, man, he’s special,” teammate Xander Bogaerts said.
Betts drew a leadoff walk from Dillon Tate to start the inning. Rafael Devers followed with a two-hopper to the right side that bounced off the glove of shortstop Richie Martin.
With right fielder Stevie Wilkerson playing deep, Betts hit second and raced for third.
“At that point, it was just instinct,” Betts said.
Wilkerson hesitated then jogged three steps before lobbing the ball back to the infield. Betts turned his head to follow the play as he turned the corner at third and took off for the plate. He scored with a head-first slide, the relay throw far too late.
It was the first walkoff victory to end a Red Sox season since 2008. They finished 84-78.
The play was the latest example of what Betts is capable of.
“He can dominate a game in every aspect,” manager Alex Cora said. “He can hit, he can play defense and he can run the bases . . . it wasn’t a gamble. It was a great baseball play. His reaction was outstanding.”
Said Bogaerts: “He has a different type of vision, seeing plays, reading stuff, anticipating. I don’t think a lot of guys would go on that play or risk it at all, and he was safe by a mile.”
A year after he was named the Most Valuable Player in the American League, Betts hit .295 with a .915 OPS, a major-league leading 135 runs, and 74 extra-base hits.
Now comes the question of what comes next. Betts has one more season before he becomes a free agent. The Sox could trade him or continue trying to put together a contract that Betts feels represents his value.
“That’s out of my hands,” Betts said. “I have my representation to take care of that type of stuff so I don’t worry about it.”
Betts smiled when asked about how he’s enjoyed his six seasons with the team.
“I’m still here,” he said. “It’s not like I’m gone until whenever. I’m not going to focus on that right now.”
In what could have been their final games for the Sox, Mitch Moreland was 1 for 3 with a walk and Brock Holt 1 for 4. Both are due to become free agents.
J.D. Martinez, who has the right to opt out of his contract after the World Series, was 1 for 4. He finished with 36 home runs and 105 RBIs.
Eduardo Rodriguez pitched seven solid innings and left the mound with a 4-3 lead. But he was denied his 20th win when the Orioles scored in the eighth inning.
An error by Bogaerts and two singles off Matt Barnes resulted in the 31st blown save for the Sox, tied with Oakland for the most this season.
Rodriguez finished 19-6 with 3.81 ERA over 203⅓ innings.
“I did the best I could,” Rodriguez said. “This year was a big step for me.”
The Sox nearly took the lead back in the eighth inning when Jackie Bradley Jr. hit a deep drive to right field with a runner on and two outs. But Wilkerson made a leaping catch before nearly tumbling into the seats adjacent to the visitors’ bullpen.
“That play has got to be the catch of the year,” Betts said.
Dwight Evans, who won eight Gold Gloves for the Red Sox in right field, texted former teammate Dennis Eckersley in the NESN booth to say it was the best catch he had seen in right field at Fenway.
Brandon Workman (10-1 with a 1.88 ERA and 16 saves) struck out the side in the ninth inning. Betts did the rest.
“It was time to go home,” he said.