ANAHEIM, Calif. -- With a homer-happy lineup and a lights-out pitching staff, the Boston Red Sox have been mowing down their opposition since the day after opening day.
Shohei Ohtani and the Los Angeles Angels were the latest contenders who could only applaud Boston's formidable start.
Mookie Betts hit his second leadoff homer in three games, Andrew Benintendi homered and drove in three runs and the Red Sox completed a dominant sweep of the AL West leaders with an 8-2 victory Thursday night.
J.D. Martinez and Rafael Devers also drove in runs during the seventh consecutive victory by the major league-leading Red Sox, who have won 16 of 17 since losing on opening day. Boston outscored the Angels 27-3 over 27 innings in the series, batting .371 while pounding out 43 hits.
"We're playing quality baseball," said Alex Cora, the first manager since 1900 to win 16 of his first 18 games in his debut season with a club. "We're pretty good right now. We're pitching and we're playing good defense, and we're driving the ball. That's a good team (in the Angels' clubhouse). For them to score three runs against us, we're on a good roll."
It's more than good: It's historic.
Eduardo Rodriguez (2-0) pitched six innings of three-hit ball as Boston extended the best start in the 118-year-old franchise's history. Boston's 11 homers off the Angels are the franchise's most in a three-game series since 1977.
"We're having fun, and usually when you do that, you play quite well," Benintendi said.
The second-year slugger acknowledged that the Red Sox aren't overly excited about their first three weeks, however. Benintendi noted that several of the hard-hit balls that went for homers in Anaheim's pleasant weather wouldn't have done the same in frigid Boston.
"What do we have left, 150 games maybe?" Benintendi asked. "We hold ourselves to high standards, and we just try to go out and play well."
Betts opened the series with a homer off Ohtani and went on to a three-homer game. Betts added another homer off Nick Tropeano (1-1) in the series finale, giving him six this season - the same number as Mike Trout.
Chris Young homered for the Angels, who started the season 13-3 before running into the Boston buzzsaw. The 11 homers also matched the Angels record for home runs allowed in a three-game series.
"We didn't swing the bat to help (Tropeano) too much," manager Mike Scioscia said. "He had to make a lot of pitches with his back against the wall. Give those guys credit. They had a great series."
Zack Cozart had an RBI single for Los Angeles in the second inning, but Boston reclaimed the lead in the fourth with RBI hits by Martinez and Devers.
Young hit his first homer for the Angels in the fifth. The veteran outfielder spent the previous two seasons with the Red Sox.
But Benintendi hit his first homer of the season and Devers added an RBI single in the sixth. Benintendi added a two-run single in the ninth.
Tropeano yielded seven hits and five runs in his second start of the season.
Ohtani went 0 for 4 with three strikeouts as the Angels' designated hitter in his first action since taking his first career loss on the mound Tuesday. Although he's still batting .324, the two-way rookie struggled while moving up to sixth in Scioscia's lineup.
THREE FROM NINE
Shortstop Brock Holt, Boston's No. 9 hitter, had his first three-hit game since Aug. 29, 2016.
Plate umpire Jerry Layne left in the bottom of the first inning after a foul ball from Trout hit him on the right elbow. Layne doubled over in obvious pain while trainers attended to him, and first base umpire Greg Gibson moved behind the plate when the game resumed after a long delay. The 59-year-old Layne, a major league umpire since 1989, had deep bruising in his elbow but no broken bones, according to X-rays.
Red Sox: 2B Dustin Pedroia will travel to Boston to be with the team next week, but he's not close to returning from offseason knee surgery.
Red Sox: Drew Pomeranz makes his season debut in the opener of a weekend series at Oakland. The left-hander strained his forearm in his first start of spring training, but has made two rehab starts in the minors to prepare for the beginning of his second full season with Boston.
Angels: Andrew Heaney (0-0, 5.40 ERA) makes his second start of the season when Los Angeles opens a weekend interleague series against San Francisco. The left-hander has never faced the Giants, and he missed the first 14 games of this season with inflammation in his pitching elbow.
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ANAHEIM, Calif. — Mookie Betts ripped a leadoff home run to left field against the Angels’ Nick Tropeano on Thursday night, the right fielder's sixth homer of the season. He added a double down the line to left in the eighth inning, making him 7-for-13 in a three-game sweep of the Angels.
On Wednesday, a day after rocking three home runs in one night, Betts was asked if he believes in the concept of entering "the zone" at the plate.
"I think it’s more of just your focus is raised and you feel good," Betts said. "Something more of that vs. like a zone. I guess you kind of get to a point where everything you hit seems to be a hit, or seems to be a home run, or what not. But I think it’s just you’re focused more, and you’re just doing the right things more, really."
The majors' best hitter to begin the 2018 season, Betts does so many things right. How he maintains his stroke is a group effort predicated on a simple idea for an otherworldy talent.
"Mookie’s an athlete. Mookie drives on feel," hitting coach Tim Hyers said. "He’s not your guy that’s like, 'I do it this way,' and he can explain, 'I do it with X, Y, Z.' He’s more of, 'I feel this way, it feels good to me.'"
Betts is pulling the ball at a particularly high rate, higher than he ever has. But pelting left field is not a new, defined approach. Both Betts and Hyers said Betts is simply reacting to pitch location. (Betts did note that he does not make his living by going the other way.)
“They’re pitching him a certain way, and he’s taking advantage of it to the pull side,” Hyers said. “Talk to me a month from now, and they might have a different approach to him."
By then, Betts’ swing will likely look a little different than it did in Anaheim. Fluidity is central to Betts’ existence in baseball, not only in his strides across the outfield, but in his daily approach in the box. Similar to a pitcher who adapts to the stuff he has on a given day, Betts moves between different versions of himself at the plate — even if the changes are slight.
“You try and be the same every day,” Betts said. “But nobody wakes up and does the same thing every day. So, you have a little tweak here and there, and if you’re just not doing something today — it’s kind of like golf. You know, you hit a slice, you’re slicing the ball today. Just for that day, play the slice. Then, the next day may change.”
That mindset is notable because it sounds counterintuitive. Hitters spend day and night in the cage to achieve some sort of ideal, or so it long appeared. Rarely, if ever, is the ideal swing described as mutable inside a given day. Hitters talk about adapting to pitchers or game situations, but not about adapting to their own feeling at the plate.
J.D. Martinez is the scientist who reverse engineers every result. Betts is the artist who knows which paints work together and which do not, but may not always know why. In 2018, Betts' understanding of his art is growing along with his output.
Teammates for two months now, Betts and Martinez chatted about their swings during batting practice on Wednesday afternoon. They talked again later that night, in the dugout after Martinez homered to the opposite field on a pitch at his ankles. (That conversation may not have been educational, however. After the game, Martinez joked he should not have swung at the pitch.)
They are as different as learners as they are batters, but Martinez and Betts have taken to each other quickly.
“What makes him so good are his hands,” Martinez said. “And I tell him that, I’m like, ‘Dude, don’t — if someone ever tells you to change your hands, tell ‘em to kick rocks. Because that’s what makes you, you.’
“He’s always asking questions, man. He’s always asking me, 'What are you trying to do with this pitch? What are you trying to do with that? How’d you get the ball this way, how do you get the ball in the air?’
“He wants to learn, which is cool, because he’s always been the guy to go up there and just hit. It’s cool, I respect that because … you’re always trying to get better, and that’s what I see in him.”
Martinez obsessively reviews video to the point that he has had to tell himself to step away. Betts reviews footage of his at-bats, but in a more deliberate fashion.
“There’s an art to watching video,” Betts said. “You have to learn how to watch video, what you’re looking for. If you’re just looking at video, looking at the big, broad picture, then you kind of get yourself in trouble. But if you kind of narrow in on certain somethings, then that’s how you kind of clean yourself up.
“Looking at just the swing. I mean, that’s pretty much it. Usually my timing is pretty close to the same all the time. I do a lot of the same movements. But the swing is different sometimes. Sometimes I swing down, sometimes I swing up, whatever.”
Martinez hasn’t exactly broken down Betts’ swing frame by frame, but he does regard Betts as somewhat atypical.
“You know, I never really got to sit there and study him and watch his swing,” Martinez said. “But being around him and seeing how athletic of a hitter he is, really, something that kind of just caught me, you look at [him] mechanically … he does a lot of things differently than most great hitters do.”
Martinez, perhaps a bit of a mad scientist — and definitely a candidate to become a hitting coach someday — didn’t elaborate at length.
“That’s a whole ‘nother topic,” Martinez said. “Just compare him to some of the best hitters. And see what you see.
“Just the way his legs work … His legs are really different.”
(When asked, Betts wasn’t sure exactly what Martinez was seeing, which probably speaks to their different consumption of hitting techniques more than anything else. “I’ve heard, ‘Where does the power come from?’” Betts said. “Other than that I haven’t really heard unorthodox.")
Regardless, Martinez was emphatic: the message to Betts is to stay true to himself.
When he talks to Hyers, Betts highlights the importance of his legs being “underneath” him. Betts will say that he feels calm in the batter’s box, or grounded. Or, he will say that he does not.
“And that’s his terminology,” Hyers said. “And when he keeps his stride length in order, not too far, and keeps everything underneath him, that’s when he lets the electric hands work.”
Overall, Hyers did not see Betts as unconventional as Martinez did, but Hyers noted Betts has more moving parts than some, particularly as he loads. (Watch his hands.) Betts has particularly loose shoulders, Hyers pointed out.
Either way, for a hitting coach, communicating with a “feel” hitter doesn’t sound like the easiest task. But a proclivity for “feel” does not preclude one from communicating well, and Hyers said Betts is successful conveying his thoughts.
“If he feels things get off line, just let him talk and [describe] what feels different," Hyers said. "And you just kind of start to hit those target areas where he feels uncomfortable. It’s more, we just talk through things, instead of you going, ‘OK, this is X,Y, Z.’”
Betts said Hyers does a strong job of using key words and terms, triggers to help Betts remember how he felt at a certain point in time. Baseball's best hitter to begin the 2018 season needs to do, not see.
“Always a feel for me,” Betts said. “I can look at it and mimic something, but if it doesn’t feel right, then I kind of don’t trust it."