Conventional thought suggests 20 hours is plenty of time to put out a fire.
The Toronto Blue Jays’ cadre of hurlers would like a word.
Red Sox shortstop Xander Bogaerts was sizzling when he entered the batter’s box in the bottom of the 10th inning late Saturday afternoon. The walkoff grand slam he deposited over the Green Monster fueled an already torrid flame. It was Bogaerts’s third slam of the season and the first in extra innings by a Boston hitter since Jim Rice tore out the hearts of the Oakland Athletics on July 4, 1984.
Bogaerts’s 10th-inning heroics in Saturday’s affair served as a harbinger of Sunday’s opening frame.
Blue Jay starter Marcus Stroman presented Bogaerts, Boston’s second batter of the afternoon, with an enticing fastball on the inside corner. The 25-year old turned and exploded through the ball, proving lightning can strike twice if you know where to look.
Bogaerts’s solo shot set the tone for a 5-2 Boston victory under the bright sun in front of a full house at Fenway Park. It capped a historic first half in which the Red Sox (68-30) won 38 more than they lost.
“Obviously [we] have something real nice going on with this team,’’ said Bogaerts. “A lot of guys are starting to heat up lately. [It’s] tough to go into the break with some guys heating up like that, but hopefully when we come back we’ll pick it up right where we left.’’
Though he didn’t notch another hit the rest of the day, going 1 for 4 with a strikeout, Bogaerts had inflicted enough damage. He smoked Stroman’s first-inning offering at a velocity of 109 miles per hour. It towered over the swiveling necks of those occupying seats atop the Green Monster and made its way toward Lansdowne Street with celerity.
Sunday marked the first time Bogaerts had ever homered in consecutive at-bats. His 16 home runs are the most by a Red Sox shortstop before the Midsummer Classic since Rico Petrocelli piped 25 over the fence in the first half of 1969.
Bogaerts also became the first MLB player since Alex Rodriguez in 2007 to homer in his first plate appearance following a walkoff grand slam. Perhaps, unsurprisingly, the last Bostonian to achieve the milestone was none other than Rice in 1984.
“That was special,’’ said teammate Jackie Bradley Jr. of Bogaerts’s feats. “He got us some early momentum, and it was a lot of fun to see.
“It’s amazing what can happen when you’re healthy. Trying to play through injuries is difficult. The game’s hard enough. To do it while your hurt, it doesn’t turn out well too often.’’
The injury Bradley was referring to occurred in April, Bogaerts suffering a small crack in the talus bone of his left ankle. As he sat out in recovery, the Red Sox soared. The shortstop hoped he could aid Boston’s already flourishing cause upon his return.
It took time for Bogaerts to regain his groove, but once things began to turn rosy the results poured in.
Over his last 11 games, Bogaerts is hitting a scorching .366 with four home runs and 19 RBIs. He’s driven in more than one run in seven of his last 11 games and has 18 multi-RBI performances in 2018. He’s already surpassed last year’s 62 RBIs with 64 through Boston’s first 98 games.
“It feels good,’’ offered Bogaerts on his recent stretch. “I’ve been helping out since I came back from my injury. It sucks being on the shelf. I know Eddie [Rodriguez] has to go through that now. He’s a huge piece we’re going to lose, but I feel good right now and [am] happy to help.’’
Though Bogaerts won’t be flying to the nation’s capital Sunday evening, his 2018 numbers are superior to the ones he tallied as an All-Star in 2016.
Entering Sunday, Bogaerts maintained a slugging percentage of .529 and an OPS of .884, both career-highs. He’s averaging a dinger once every 19.4 at-bats. He averaged one every 47.4 at-bats over his first five MLB seasons.
Bogaerts’s power surge can be explained by the swing path mechanics Boston preached in spring training. The native of Aruba is hitting fewer ground balls than in any season since 2014. His hard contact percentage (39.5) is nearly eight points above his career average.
One would be hard-pressed to bicker with Bogaerts’s straightforward but accurate summation of Boston’s first half.
Said the shortstop with a grin, “We had a lot of fun.’’