[Editor’s note: Turning Twosday is a weekly column from Bryan Joiner in which Bryan explores two players/events/themes, related or unrelated, within the Red Sox universe. Yes, this site is launching on a Wednesday, but Monday’s game was too damn fun not to have Bryan write about, and so here we are. Enjoy!]
It was an inauspicious start for NESN, on MLB TV at least. Cole Hamels was set to enter his first windup of the year and the screen went black. Somehow it flicked back to life before the windup was finished, he threw it, and the season was off. Mookie Betts popped out to shortstop. Dustin Pedroia came to the plate.
By now you know what happened. Pedroia hit a home run to deep left — “HOME [BLEEPING] RUN” in my game notes — and the 2015 season had begun. Like virtually everyone else in the lineup, Pedroia had missed last year’s game 162 with an injury. In the long offseason, and the absence of real baseball, there was a question of whether his power would ever return. Small sample size? Maybe. But he hit a second home run before the game was over, one to make it 3-0.
It was 3-0 because Betts had homered in between. As unlikely as it was, with a full half-season under his belt, Betts, at the ripe old age of 22, was one of only two Red Sox who played in last season’s final game and this season’s first game. He was the youngest player in the lineup but already a link to the past, and the only one on offense to play in last year’s closeout game.
The other was Clay Buchholz, but it was a different Clay then than it was yesterday.
Last year’s Buchholz gave up four runs in six innings in September garbage time, all to a zombie Yankees team that included an octogenarian at shortstop. This year’s Buchholz pitched one of the most impressive games of his Rorschach career. It was extremely impressive, even given the opponent — this year’s Phillies are an Aristocrats joke that’s only getting started — but it wasn’t just against the filler of a soft lineup that Clay shined. It was against everyone. He made Chase Utley look like a fool, twice on swinging strikeouts, and Utley is no fool.
This was Best Clay. There are many, many Clays, and each Clay has his own repertoire of pitches on a given day, 20-80 scale rankings for those pitches, and, on the best day, a repeatable windup worthy of being Yu Darvish gif-ed. This was pretty much that. When he hit his spots, he nailed the corners. When he missed, he didn’t miss. The fastball was down and the curveballs and changeups were lethal. In the infinite universe of Clays Buchholz, this a was 99th percentile outcome.
The problem is that life is a capricious toad and you never know what’s going to happen next or which mold of Clay you’re getting from start to start. This is the Clay for whom we’re perpetually waiting. We just don’t usually have to wait a whole offseason.
Mookie Betts is the exact freaking opposite. Mookie is a single serving of life in a bottle that you can pop like Pez and you’ll never get a stomachache, because sometimes life is just magic like that, and Mookie is magic. Betts already seems like a player to whom the sport seems like a perfect extension of himself in both physical talent and familiarity. Kill me if I say it isn’t a tad Jeter-ish. Kill me if I say that there aren’t an infinite number of Mookies Betts, but just the one, and thank god he’s not in the Bronx.
His home run came on an inside fastball that he obliterated when Hamels missed his spot. It was one of five on the day; Pedroia had two and Hanley Ramirez also had two. But it was Betts’ next at-bat where his growth potential showed. At 2-0, 3-1 and 3-2, Mookie swung through fastballs that never came, and Hamels dispatched him like a veteran pitcher ought to: with offspeed pitches in fastball situations, using the kid’s piss, vinegar and intelligence against him. Make your Hamels jokes today with relish, but the guy can pitch, and this was an example of it. Mookie should have gotten on base, but he didn’t. Hamels was losing the war, but he won the battle, and Mookie was humbled.
It merely took one of the game’s best pitchers, rallying to offer up his best stuff. For a short window, Hamels was the Best Clay Buchholz, and Mookie went down. If that’s what it takes to beat this team, so be it. The Phillies couldn’t do it yesterday, and the survivors of Game 162, Mookie and Clay, Clay and Mookie, are ready to show the rest of baseball that they can’t do it either.
Photo by Kelly O’Connor, sittingstill.smugmug.com