By Michael Hurley, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) — The 162-game baseball season is long, and at times it can get a bit monotonous — especially in the middle of the summer when it feels like nothing is really at stake. But occasionally, events take place that are simply too good to miss.
On Thursday night at Fenway Park, one such event took place. It really was one for the memory books.
By now, you almost certainly know how it ended: A towering grand slam launched over the Green Monster by Mookie Betts. But it was the series of events leading up to that moment that made it so incredible.
Start in the bottom of the fourth, with one out and the Blue Jays leading 2-0, and with Xander Bogaerts on first base. Brock Holt hit a ground ball to shortstop Lourdes Gurriel Jr., who flipped to second baseman Devon Travis. He tried to turn two, but Holt beat the throw to first base. It looked like there’d be two outs in the inning, but manager Alex Cora emerged from the dugout to talk to the umpires. As it turned out, Travis lifted his foot off the second base bag before receiving the feed from Gurriel, and after a lengthy video review, Bogaerts was ruled safe.
“All the credit goes to JT [Watkins], our replay guy. He was actually the MVP of the game,” Cora said. “He was the one that made the call right away. We waited, and waited for the replay, and he does an outstanding job. Him and Steve [Langone] and Billy [Broadbent], too. But that was a game-changer. That play right there, we’ve been a little bit unlucky lately with the challenges. But that changed the game right there, so give credit to them.”
After the Blue Jays offered that gift to the Red Sox, starting pitcher J.A. Happ kept the giving spirit going. After Eduardo Nunez hit a weak chopper short of the mount, Happ retrieved the ball and threw a nonchalant throw to first base. Nunez beat the throw easily, which loaded the bases. Sandy Leon grounded into a fielder’s choice to score the first Boston run of the evening, setting up a two-on, two-out situation for Jackie Bradley Jr.
Bradley entered the night with a .292 on-base percentage, and he had drawn just one walk in his previous 25 plate appearances. The always-dangerous Mookie Betts stood in the on-deck circle. The last thing Happ wanted to do was load the bases for Betts, especially at the end of such a long and physically taxing inning. But after getting ahead of Bradley 0-2, Happ lost him, throwing four straight balls and setting up a very dangerous situation for baseball’s best hitter.
And that’s when the magic began.
First pitch: Called Strike, fastball down the middle
Second pitch: Ball, fastball high
Third pitch: Swinging Strike, fastball away
Fourth pitch: Foul, fastball in
It was here that this all could have ended. Betts was jammed and sent a foul ball up the first-base line. Justin Smoak chased in pursuit and tried to make an over-the-shoulder catch, but the ball bounced right out of his glove and fell harmlessly to the dirt.
Given new life, Betts continued his at-bat.
Fifth pitch: Foul, fastball down and away
Sixth pitch: Foul, fastball up and away
Seventh pitch: Foul, changeup down and away
Eighth pitch: Foul, changeup away
Ninth pitch: Foul, fastball up
10th pitch: Ball, slider in the dirt
11th pitch: Check-swing foul, down
12th pitch: Ball, slider in the dirt
It was that 11th pitch that was dangerously close to being strike three. Betts barely got his bat out over the plate, and he barely made contact. But he did, chopping the ball to the dirt just behind the plate, to stay alive.
All of that set up for pitch No. 13 of the at-bat, and pitch No. 98 of the night for Happ. As fate would have it, that would be his final pitch of the night.
See it all for yourself:
Betts, who’s almost always stoic and composed on the field, couldn’t contain his emotions, as he screamed to himself and then to his dugout before nearly stumbling to the ground in excitement.
He managed to keep his feet, but once he touched first base he looked back into the Boston dugout to let out one more roar. He eventually rounded the bases and crossed the plate having just turned in what will be remembered as one of the most memorable at-bats in all of Major League Baseball in 2018.
For Betts, it was a moment he’ll never forget.
“Since I’ve been in the big leagues, that’s probably the most excited I’ve been,” he said, per RedSox.com. “I was just looking at the dugout, excited. A good time to show some emotion.”
Adding to the somewhat comical nature of Betts’ slam is the fact that the pitch wasn’t even a strike. Happ’s fastball was low, at shin height on Betts. But Betts had Happ’s fastball timed pretty well to that point, and he was able to barrel it up and send it over everything in left field.
After such an emotional surge, the Red Sox went on to win the game, 6-4. David Price allowed three runs in 6.2 innings to improve to 10-6, and Craig Kimbrel picked up his 29th save of the season. Winners of 10 straight and 17 of their last 20 games, the Red Sox are 66-29, owners of the best record in baseball. There’s not much that’s not going right for the Red Sox as they head in to All-Star week.
“It was loud here,” Cora said. “That at-bat, it was cool to see the fans standing up. As soon as he hit that ball, this place went crazy. I think the city is starting to like this team. It’s a likable group, they play hard, they show up every day, and regardless of the results, they’ll show up the next day. So it’s good to see the place like that — very loud and into it.”