Mookie magic: Red Sox teammates marvel at Betts' show-stealing performance

BOSTON -- So, winter officially ends in New England, it turns out, right at the stroke of Mookie.

Patriots quarterback Tom Brady may have brought the heat with his ceremonial first pitch to designated catcher David Ortiz, Tom Terrific and Big Papi embracing after Brady went low and away as Bill Belichick looked on. But all that pregame megawattage, which included star turns by Hall of Fame pitcher Pedro Martinez and Hall of Fame inspiration Pete Frates as two F-16's piloted by Vermont’s legendary Green Mountain Boys thundered overhead, soon melted away, eclipsed by the magnitude of Mookie.

Mookie Betts, the 22-year-old Red Sox outfielder not yet born when Ortiz signed his first pro contract in 1992 and not much older than the kids the Sox rounded up to be a focus of pregame festivities, made Fenway Park his own personal playground in Monday’s 9-4 win over the Washington Nationals.

He also single-handedly provided a solution to baseball’s supposed pace of play issue, packing a feature-length highlights reel into the first two innings alone.

"He basically took the game over," manager John Farrell said.

Betts made a leaping catch in front of the Sox bullpen to take a home run away from another precocious star, Bryce Harper, in the top of the first; he walked and stole two bases on the same play in the bottom of the inning when he popped up and bolted for third against an overshifted Nationals defense; he hit a three-run home run into the Monster seats in the second.

By the end of the third, an inning in which Betts was credited with an infield single on a ball fumbled by Nats shortstop Ian Desmond, the Sox had a 7-0 lead, and an affair twixt a town [thank you, Ken Coleman] and a dashing new leading man was in full bloom.

"That was the craziest thing I’ve ever seen in baseball," Ortiz said. "I was like, ‘Bro, not even in a few practices you can do that.

"That kid is an unbelievable athlete. It’s a no-doubter he’s going be a super star."

Well, let’s back up a bit: Shane Victorino, who was in the neighborhood when Betts leaped high above the bullpen barrier and then tumbled into the low riser, told Betts that if he’d taken one more step, he could have made a routine catch.

"I told him that," said the veteran Victorino, whose Gold Gloves give him some gravitas when it comes to talking about fielding.

"He said, ‘Really?'"

Victorino couldn’t stay in character.

"I said, ‘No, that was a great play. An amazing play. I was scared about when he left his feet, that he might come down early and go tumbling against the wall. But he was perfect."

Victorino was playing for the Phillies in the World Series in 2009 when Johnny Damon, playing for the Yankees, made a similar first-to-third dash against an overshifted defense. He has seen it a couple of times since, he said, but that doesn’t mean he was any less impressed by what Betts pulled off Monday.

With Jordan Zimmermann pitching to Ortiz, Betts took off for second and just beat the throw from catcher Jose Lobaton. But the moment shortstop Ian Desmond relaxed his tag and removed his glove, Betts bounded up and lit out for third.

"Once I knew I was safe," Betts said, "I kind of looked up to see where the pitcher was and he was kind of hanging around the mound, so I figured I might as well just try and go. I didn’t think anybody could catch me."

It was close -- Nats manager Matt Williams even asked the umps to review the plays at both bags -- but Betts got in before Zimmerman slapped the tag on him at third.

"There are a lot of elements to that play," Victorino said. "You’ve got to be smart, ahead of everybody else, and you’ve got to be fast, of course. Just a great read."

Porcello, the primary beneficiary of the Mookie magic, marveled at the home run that Betts blasted deep into the left-field seats.

"That was a fastball in and off the plate," Porcello said. "You don’t see too many guys turn on a ball like that. You saw it in spring training, and he’s letting it fly right now. That’s why he’s so good."

The Sox, who had two late nights in New York, one the result of Friday’s 19-inning marathon, the other the product of being wanted on ESPN Sunday Night Baseball, get a small breather upon their return home. They meet the Nationals Tuesday night at 6:10.

That should give Betts enough time to solve Boston’s subway woes, housing shortages, and light the Olympic flame. And all of that will be incorporated into a new team anthem by that great Boston band, the Dropkick Mookies.