Red Sox

Why pitch No. 13 became Mookie Betts' signature moment

Red Sox

BOSTON — No. 13 didn’t involve luck.

Drunk on excitement as he exited the box, Mookie Betts stumbled momentarily as he yelled mid-stride to his teammates. The dugout and stadium burst along with Betts, who lit up in a way the superstar never has on a Major League field. Betts' towering grand slam cleared the Green Monster, providing both the finish to a 13-pitch duel with J.A. Happ and the signature moment of Betts’ young career.

“Since I've been in the big leagues that's probably the most excited I've been,” Betts said after a 6-4 Sox win over the Blue Jays on Thursday night.

With 23 home runs now and his MVP candidacy building, Betts has grown further into his own with the assistance of J.D. Martinez and hitting coach Tim Hyers, among others.

A 13-pitch at-bat can be easy to chalk up to a battle of wills: someone tired, someone else didn’t.

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But the grand slam, the fourth of Betts’ career, was really representative of how dangerous a hitter Betts has become, particularly on pitches in the location where Happ’s 95-mph fastball wound up: down, slightly below the zone, and inner half of the plate.

The final three pitches of the at-bat were in that same area. Mike Trout’s a hell of a lowball hitter, the best known lowball hitter in the big leagues. Never mind the Home Run Derby. He and Betts could go to a driving range together.

"He’s really stressing is to stay through the ball, so I think it’s easier when the ball’s down, when he stays in the foundation," Hyers said Thursday night when asked about the low-ball domination. "So that’s something that he’s trying to do this year, and it’s probably a byproduct of getting a few more balls low in the air — and he’s got the quickness to get it out of here."
 

If the strike zone is cut up into nine squares, a three-by-three box, Betts’ ability to hit anything aside from high-and-tight pitches becomes apparent. Virtually everything is a shade of red, if viewed by slugging percentage: one big hot zone. But where his slugging has been best in this MVP-worthy season is in the lower third of the strike zone — and in the area just outside of the zone down and in.

His slugging percentage on the low, inside corner of the strike zone, per BaseballSavant.com entering Thursday night, was 1.375.

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“I would say his more swing’s tailored for that at times,” Hyers said. “There’s time when he’s staying above the ball and the ball’s up and he’s lacing line drives opposite field.

"He does a pretty good job identifying when he needs — ‘cause I think that first inning, he stayed on the ball and was using more top hand. Obviously that last one was a grind AB and got a ball that, I would say, is more his happy zone."

Most everywhere in the strike zone seemingly is a happy zone for Betts. But one of the most potent hitters anywhere is at his very best on pitches down and in. 

The result Thursday: over the Green Monster and out for perhaps the best Sox moment yet in 2018.

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