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Red Sox Find a Mixed Bag in Mookie Betts' Much-Hyped Debut

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Adam Hunger-USA TODAY Sports

Enter the wisenheimers.

Mookie Betts saw his first at-bat in the major leagues during the second inning of the Red Sox’ 8-5 win over the Yankees Sunday night, at precisely 8:32 p.m., EST, as the Globe’s Nick Cafardo so deftly recorded. This was the rarest of occasions, the Red Sox prospect coming to the plate for his first at-bat following a Stephen Drew RBI single that gave Boston a 1-0 lead. As Betts worked a 2-1 count from New York starter Chase Whitley, the beleaguered Drew stood on first, soon running as Betts made contact with a Whitley fastball, grounding it to third baseman Kelly Johnson.

Double Play.End of the threat. End of the inning.

”Look, he fits right in.

Indeed, seeing as the offensively-challenged Red Sox have grounded into 76 double plays this season (only the Texas Rangers have more, with 80), the flippant observation was omnipresent Sunday night when the rookie made his first big league start for Boston, the latest development in what truly has been “The Year of Mookie” for the Red Sox franchise. Two innings following his twin-killing, Betts slapped a 1-0 Whitley fastball into center field for his first major league hit. Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter retrieved the ball and tossed the keepsake in the direction of the Red Sox dugout. That Jeter, right?

Two pitches later, Jeter was tagging Betts out after trying to steal second.

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Betts walked in the top of the sixth inning, and scored his first major league run on a Dustin Pedroia sacrifice fly. He grounded out to short in the eighth, the culmination of an eight-pitch at-bat against lefty Matt Thornton. The 21-year-old phenom finished the evening 1-for-3 with a run scored, a night and a debut that was eventually overshadowed by David Ortiz’s three-run home run in the third inning.

“It was great,” Betts told reporters after the game. “I had jitters once I saw the first pitch, same game. For the first game, it was a real incredible atmosphere.”

As far as debuts go, no, it wasn’t exactly as explosive as Daniel Nava hitting a grand slam in his first at-bat back in 2010, but the Red Sox have to be pleased with Day One of the Mookie Experiment, even considering how the right fielder misplayed a ball hit by Ichiro in the sixth inning that went for a triple. It was, after all, Betts’ third-ever appearance in right. Not everyone is Brock Holt, people.

“I thought he controlled each and every one of his at-bats, particularly the walk,” Red Sox manager John Farrell said. “He takes a borderline 3-2 pitch for the walk. He showed good presence in the batter’s box. He might have been a little bit overaggressive on defense with the dive on Ichiro’s ball. But for his first outing, he showed very well.”

Then again, if the Red Sox are asking for aggressiveness at the plate and on the base paths, traits Betts clearly demonstrated in Day One with the big club, then they’ll have to take a lapse in judgement in the field from time-to-time as well.

After one game, Betts is hitting .333, with a .500 on-base percentage, an .833 OPS, and enough hype to fill the Brian Rose memory banks. One year ago, Betts was playing in Single-A Greenville and Salem. The 2011 draftee saw a whole five at-bats during spring training with the major league team. Baseball America ranked him the Red Sox’ seventh-best prospect, 75th in all of baseball. Betts changed all perception about him by hitting a combined .345 with eight home runs, 48 runs batted in, and a .957 OPS this season between Double-A Portland and Triple-A Pawtucket.

Still, even a month ago, Red Sox general manager Ben Cherington professed that he didn’t believe that 2014 would feature Betts’ debut in the major leagues, eager to give him more fine-tuning in Pawtucket. But Betts’ new teammates sort of thwarted that plan with their inability to hit even the most middling major league starter. Boston has scored only 311 runs this season, worst in the American League. With runners in scoring position, Red Sox batters are hitting an ungodly .228 with a .663 OPS. Only Houston is worse.

Betts can’t cure that on his own. But the Red Sox sure hope he can at least spark something for the Red Sox to keep their heads above water until the trade market starts heating up in the coming weeks.

“I don’t think we can be gun-shy about calling up a young player we believe in,” Cherington said. “Based on Mookie’s performance, we felt like this made sense now.’’

Ride the hot hand to respectability. It might not do much for a mantra, but at least it’s not the white flag.

Mookie Betts is on board, likely for good. The Sox are now 2-0 with the youngster on their roster.

Maybe, just maybe then, we are in the zygote stages of a stretch of “Mookie Magic.” Only the Cubs, Orioles, White Sox, and Astros stand in the way between the Red Sox and the All-Star break, and remarkably, Betts won’t be playing in any exhibitions during the break at any level.

Think it’s safe to say he’ll easily trade that for the latest development in his stratospheric ascent.


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