Mookie Betts Does Everything Big And Little In Dodgers Game 1 Win
There was something about Mookie Betts that stood out to evaluators, even as a prospect.
Yes, there was the lightning-quick hands, the exceptional hand-eye coordination and bat speed, the elite athleticism and penchant for highlight-reel defensive plays. That’s the core of what made him a Top 100 Prospect in 2014 after a star turn at the Class A levels.
But there was more. Betts read the game better than most his age, and that especially revealed itself on the bases.
Betts wasn’t just fast. He read pitchers, got great jumps and turned outs into runs with his instincts. He stole 92 bases in his minor league career, and was thrown out only 15 times.
Betts’ natural talents were immense. His understanding of the finer points of the game separated him even more.
What was true as a prospect has remained true as a major leaguer. Betts' blend of immense physical talent and uncanny dedication to detail once again showed itself Tuesday night, and put the Dodgers closer to their ultimate goal.
Betts homered, singled, stole two bases in one inning and scored twice out of the leadoff spot to lead the Dodgers to an 8-3 win over the Rays in Game 1 of the World Series.
He became the first player in MLB history with a homer, two stolen bases and two runs scored in a World Series game. He became the second player to record a walk and multiple stolen bases in one inning in a World Series game, joining none other than Babe Ruth.
“It’s really unbelievable,” Dodgers center fielder Cody Bellinger said. “It’s so fun to watch and we’re so lucky to have him on our team. He’s a superstar guy, a superstar talent, but he does all the little things right and you can really learn from that when a guy is that good. He just wants to win and like I said just continues to go unnoticed by a lot of people, maybe not, but it’s really special.”
The other two MVP winners on the Dodgers star-studded roster got them started. Clayton Kershaw pitched six innings with two hits and one run allowed, one walk and eight strikeouts. Bellinger opened the scoring with a two-run homer in the fourth to give the Dodgers a lead they would never relinquish.
When the Rays cut the deficit in half on Kevin Kiermaier’s solo home run in the top of the fifth, it was Betts’ time to shine. He opened the top of the fifth with a five-pitch walk, laying off Tyler Glasnow’s entreaties below the zone. He promptly stole second base, giving the Dodgers a runner in scoring position.
Betts nearly got picked off of second base, but that didn’t deter him. After Corey Seager walked, he stole third on the front end of a double steal to give the Dodgers a pair of runners in scoring position.
“Stealing bases are a thing for me,” Betts said. “That’s how I create runs. I cause a little havoc on the bases. I take pride in stealing bases. Once I get on the basepaths, I’m just trying to touch home and however I get there is how I get there. I’m going to be aggressive on the basepaths.”
Then came his finest example of “little things” evaluators have raved about since Betts was a 20-year-old in the Carolina League.
Betts took an aggressive secondary lead on a Glasnow pitch, shortening the distance between him and home plate. He broke immediately on contact from Max Muncy, getting to top speed with not even a half-second to spare. Rays first baseman Yandy Diaz had to make his throw on the move precisely because Betts got such a good secondary lead and quick jump, forcing the throw slightly up the line. When catcher Mike Zunino caught it and swung his left arm around for the tag, Betts artfully dodged it and slid headfirst into home plate.
It was the first run of a four-run inning, and Betts had opened the floodgates.
“That’s just another element that Mookie brings,” Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said. “He does a lot of studying and to be able to create stress and whether it’s stealing a base or just being on base to make the pitcher speed up or not execute a pitch, he creates tension and he’s just a heck of a ballplayer.”
Betts led off the sixth with an opposite-field home run, adding to the Dodgers lead and demonstrating another aspect of his ability.
Asked which he preferred though, Betts chose his run-scoring dash in the fifth.
“I think I’m the most proud of the contact play at third,” he said. “Got a run obviously there and then it was first and third and then we scored a couple more and so I think it just kind of kept the line moving. So it was a good play there and you have to give credit to the hitters that came up after driving in runs keep constant pressure.”
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Betts had plenty of help. Kershaw needed just 78 pitches to slice through the Rays offense over six innings. Corey Seager drew three walks to elevate Glasnow’s pitch count and help run him up to 112 pitches in only 4.2 innings. Will Smith came up with another crucial hit this postseason with a two-run single following Betts’ run in the fifth.
But after it was over, everyone’s loudest raves were reserved for Betts.
“He just does things on a baseball field that not many people can do and he does it very consistently, which I think separates him from a lot of guys,” Kershaw said. “…He does some special things and hits homers and takes the extra base and things like that, but I think the day in and day out consistency of what he does on a baseball field separates him.”
That hasn’t happened by chance. Betts, after finishing runner-up in American League MVP voting with the Red Sox in 2016, made a commitment to such consistency.
“Watching the greats play, they’re all just really consistent,” he said. “They hit their home runs constantly. They drive in runs constantly. Walk constantly. Make good plays constantly. It’s not just one and then a long period of time before another one. You just have to be good at all aspects of the game at all times. Don’t take plays off and 2016 is when I told myself that’s what I want to do.”
The end result is a player who does all the big things and all the little things and does them day in and day out.
The hints were apparent in the lowest of the minors. Now, it’s continuously showing itself on baseball’s brightest stage. First with the Red Sox, and now with the Dodgers after last winter’s blockbuster trade.
“Whether it’s a defensive play that helps the team or a baserunning play that gets himself into scoring position for a teammate to drive in a run, I think he just gets (the most) satisfaction out of that,” Roberts said. “When he hits a home run it certainly helps the team, he just doesn’t care for…all the statistics. I think he just plays the game to win and I think even better if other guys get the credit.”