On July 25th, the Red Sox were in first place, two games ahead of the second place New York Yankees and 3½ games ahead of the third place Tampa Bay Rays.
They played the Seattle Mariners that night in Safeco Field. The ninth batter in the Red Sox lineup that night, playing at third base, in his first big league game, was 20 year old rookie Rafael Devers. Devers would go 0-4 in that game which the Sox lost in the 13th inning, 6-5.
In his first at bat, in the third inning, he flied out to center, and, in his last at bat, in the 13th inning, with the Sox up 5-4, and runners on first and second, he flied to center again, to end the inning and the rally. Seattle, of course, came back with two in the last of the 13th for the win. Devers was 0-4 in the game, with two walks and a run scored. He also hit into an inning ending double play in the 7th inning.
Three days later, on July 28, the Red Sox were playing the Kansas City Royals at home. Eduardo Nunez, who the Red Sox had just picked up from the San Fracisco Giants, was the designated hitter, batting second, in his first game with the Red Sox.
In his first at bat as a member of the Red Sox, Nunez walked but was stranded on base. In his second at bat, in the third inning, he singled off the glove of third baseman Mike Moustakos. In his third at bat, with the Sox trailing 4-1, he singled to right, and, in his last at bat, he grounded out to short to start the ninth inning in the Red Sox 4-2 defeat.
The Sox had debuted two new players in three days, both of whom they expected to help solve their two biggest problems, third base and a lack of power hitting.
On the 28th of July after losing to Kansas City, in Nunez’s first game, the Sox were in second place, one half game behind the first place Yankees. With Devers and Nunez in the lineup almost every day from that day through August 14th, (last Monday), the Sox won 11 games and lost just three and moved into first place by 4 ½ games over the Yankees.
Devers and Nunez weren’t responsible for all the success of the team during that period but they certainly contributed to it. One of them didn’t get the game winning hit or score the game winning run on somebody else’s hit every day but they were out there doing there job and helping fill those two gaps..
The ‘experts ‘ have always talked about a winning team having ‘chemistry’ that makes them a better team than others. I have always thought that this theory puts the cart before the horse. It is my feeling that winning makes chemistry, not the other way around. A winning team develops the attitude, enthusiasm and enjoyment that people identify as ‘chemistry’. A winning team has fun because it is winning, it doesn’t win because it is having fun. As anyone who has played any of the major sports will tell you, winning may not be everything but it is always more fun to win than to lose.
Imagine the effect adding two of the BEST offensive players in baseball to a team’s lineup can have on the rest of the people in that lineup. Before you question me about where I get off insinuating that Devers and Nunez are two of the BEST offensive players in baseball read what follows.
Baseball, as Lou Piniella once said ‘ is a results driven industry ‘ and, as in any results driven industry, the key question to be answered is ‘What have you done for me today? ‘
In the games from July 24th until August 14th, Devers hit .339, with 21 hits in 62 at bats, six homers and 12 RBI’s, in 16 games. In Nunez’s first 15 games, he hit .382, with 26 hits in 68 at bats, four homers and 12 RBI’s. If they were to play 150 games of a 162 game season, producing at that rate, Devers would get 197 hits, including 56 homers and 113 RBI’s and Nunez would get 260 hits, 40 homers and 120 RBI’s.
Can these two continue to play as they have for the rest of the season? Common sense would tell you that the answer has to be no. Did they jump start this team and make it play better than it had been before? In the 14 games before July 28th, the Red Sox won five and lost nine to fall out of first place. In the 14 games from July 28th until August 14th, they won 11 and lost three and moved back into first place by their biggest margin of the year. You can draw your own conclusions from there.
I, for one, will never cease to be amazed at the mysteries of baseball. What makes a 30 year old player, like Nunez, who had hit .273 for his 1,697 at bat career, suddenly hit .382 for a 15 game period? What makes that same player, who has averaged one home run for every 50 of those at bats and one RBI for every nine at bats, suddenly average one homer for every 17 at bats and one RBI for every 5.7 at bats?
What makes a 20 year old rookie, who averaged one homer for every 32 at bats in the Minor Leagues, average one every 10.2 at bats against Major League pitching?
The unpredictability and competitiveness of baseball are only two of the factors that make baseball exciting for the fans. It is the only major sport where the winners rarely win more than 60 per cent of the games played and one of the results of that is that a couple of players putting together a hot streak at the same time can change the course of a pennant race as these two have here.
Whatever happens for the rest of this season, whether the Red Sox go all the way and win it all or end up in last place or something in between, these two newcomers, born in the Dominican Republic almost ten years apart, one a seasoned veteran and one a baby faced kid, have had a positive effect on this Red Sox team for their first few weeks and made Red Sox Nation a happier place to be. Let’s hope the Sox keep making their own chemistry.