Alex Verdugo isn’t a fan of them, and they’re not necessarily fair, but the Mookie comparisons are inevitable. After all, he was the main return for Mookie and David Price in the biggest trade of the year, he’s out in right field covering Mookie’s old stomping grounds most games, and if Ron Roenicke has any sense, he’ll soon be hitting in Mookie’s old spot at the top of the order, too.
You could say that Alex Verdugo had a Mookie-esque night tonight. He homered twice – both to the opposite field – and then stole a home run from former Red Sox player Travis Shaw in the 9th. Offensive power and jaw-dropping outfield heroics were, as Austin Powers would say, Mookie’s bag, baby. So yes, Alex Verdugo might’ve impressed tonight by being as all-around impactful as his predecessor, but he did it all on his own.
His first homer of the night was his first at Fenway, a go-ahead solo shot in the 2nd inning off Jays starter Tanner Roark. Roark had walked four of the first five batters he faced in the previous inning, walking in a freebie game-tying run (Red Sox starter Ryan Weber had given up a leadoff bomb to Cavan Biggio 15 seconds into the game.) He threw a 76.6 mph changeup, and Verdugo responded by sending it 366-ft to the opposite field at 98.8 mph.
In the 8th inning, with the Red Sox clinging to a 1-run lead, as they almost always are, if they can even manage a lead at all, Verdugo came up clutch yet again. His second bomb of the night went 331-ft with an exit velocity of 101.8 mph, soaring over the Green Monster and smacking the National Car Rental sign.
Verdugo, or Dugie as he’s affectionately known, has now homered three times in these last two games. The only player on the team with more home runs is the perennially-underrated Mitch Moreland, who hit his fourth tonight and missed his fifth by a few feet later in the game. And having players who can pick up the slack is important, as players like Andrew Benintendi and, to a lesser extent, JD Martinez continue to struggle; the former is now 2-for-29 on the season with 12 strikeouts, while the latter has shown flashes of his usual dominant self at the plate, but has yet to hit a home run. Verdugo, meanwhile, has even homered off a lefty; his first home run in a Red Sox uniform came off Rays southpaw Ryan Yarbrough on Wednesday night.
But perhaps even more impressive than his own home runs was the robbery he pulled off in the 9th inning to preserve Boston’s 5-3 lead. Brandon Workman, the Red Sox presumed closer, has been shaky to start the season after being the most dominant closer in the game last year. Travis Shaw was the first batter he faced tonight, and he smoked one to right field that seemed like a no-doubter… until Dugie back all the way up to the Blue Jays bullpen, thrust his arm backwards over the wall, and grabbed it back from the brink of being a bomb. After the game, he said, “Taking a home run back, that’s one of the most exciting plays in baseball. And after just hitting one, I was on Cloud Nine.”
The Red Sox are only 5-8 on the season, but they’re showing signs of life. These last two games have been a vast improvement from the ones before. The bats are heating up. And while Red Sox Nation and the broadcast booth aren’t going to stop mentioning Mookie Betts any time soon, tonight belonged to Alex Verdugo, and it was a heck of a coming-out party.
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Alex Verdugo HR stats: @DingerTracker