BOSTON -- To hear Chili Davis tell it, this was a breakthrough 10 days in the making.
Well, two months and 10 days.
For weeks, the Boston Red Sox hitting coach worked with star right fielder Mookie Betts to solve a slump that had persisted since the All-Star break. Betts took extra swings in the batting cage and broke down video with Davis. They focused on his swing and stride before concluding the problem was really with Betts' balance.
Then, about 10 days ago: Eureka! Betts emerged from batting practice feeling satisfied with the changes and all but portended an impending hot streak.
"Man," Betts told Davis, "that's the best BP I've taken in a long time."
It had all led up to this. On Tuesday night, in the opener of a three-game series with the Oakland A's, Betts blasted two homers and drove in six runs in an 11-1 Red Sox rout in Fenway Park. It was his third multihomer game of the season but just his fourth and fifth homers since the All-Star break.
This wasn't one isolated game either. Betts picked up three hits in a 19-inning victory over the Toronto Blue Jays on Sept. 5. He hit a three-run homer last Friday night in a win over the Tampa Bay Rays. And now, after leading a 16-hit charge against the A's, Betts explained that he's as much at a loss for his resurgence as he was for the slump that preceded it.
"I'm not exactly sure what it is," Betts said. "That's the weird part. I think it could be just the game of baseball."
In that case, Betts might want to figure a way to bottle it up and save it for next month.
Barring an all-out collapse of epic, 2011-caliber proportions, the Red Sox will be in the playoffs for the second straight season. And although there were plenty of culprits for getting swept out of the American League Division Series last year, Betts' 2-for-10 showing against the Cleveland Indians seemed to set a tone for the rest of the offense.
Looking back, Betts learned lessons from that failure. He admits that "this is the time where things are a little more magnified due to the playoff race." Considering Davis describes Betts as a "perfectionist," it's fair to wonder if he put too much pressure on himself to deliver when the Red Sox needed him most.
"We look at it as, he is putting pressure on himself. But he knows what he's capable of," Davis said. "He knows what he's capable of doing, and when he's not doing that, then he doesn't like it. I don't think he tries to put any additional pressure on himself. He just wants to feel good at the plate."
Surely, Betts' mini 9-for-25 surge feels good.
"I think it's the most consistent I've been," he said. "If I am more relaxed, that's good. Got a little way to go. Just want to keep the same focus."
Betts said he focused more intensely after his first at-bat Tuesday night, when he grounded into a rally-killing double play against A's starter Sean Manaea. When Betts came to the plate with two on and two out in the second inning, he unloaded an opposite-field triple that stretched the lead to 5-0.
In the fourth inning, Betts homered off a changeup from Manaea. He jumped on a first-pitch fastball from reliever Raul Alcantara in the sixth and hammered it over the left-field wall. With the two homers, Betts became the first player in Red Sox history to have back-to-back 20-homer/20-steal seasons.
"Any time you can get a milestone like that you should always be appreciative, and I am," Betts said. "I think it just shows the type of player that I can be and the player that I strive to be."
But Betts also claims he isn't striving to hit home runs. It also isn't the way he measures how he feels at the plate.
"I don’t care about the home runs as much as just being consistent and RBIs," Betts said. "I care about runs scored and RBIs. Those are the most important things for me."
Given the pitching they're bound to face from the runaway Indians and the Houston Astros, there might not be a more important player to the Red Sox's offense in October.