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Modest Mookie Betts continues 'freakish' MVP season for Red Sox

BALTIMORE -- On Tuesday night, the Mookie Betts Express rolled into another city -- the third in as many days -- and delivered two more home runs, five more RBIs, and a fifth consecutive Boston Red Sox win, a 5-3 victory over the rival Baltimore Orioles.

And when it was over, the only person who still claimed to be surprised by any of it was, well, Betts.

"Shoot, I have no idea," Betts said when asked to explain his latest power show. "Somehow it's going over the fence. Again, I'm going to continue to say I don't know why, but I'm just trying to put good swings on it and enjoy it."

OK, if Modest Mookie won't say it, then Red Sox reliever Robbie Ross Jr. will. Betts is a freak, a blend of speed and power and ridiculous hand-eye coordination all wrapped up in a 5-foot-9, 180-pound body.

That's why he is able to bat in the leadoff spot for 108 consecutive games and hit .310 with 23 home runs, 18 stolen bases and an .896 OPS, then move to the No. 3 spot in the order and smash three homers and eight RBIs Sunday against the Arizona Diamondbacks, and finally slide down to the cleanup spot and single-handedly defeat the Orioles, who slipped into a second-place tie with the Red Sox in the AL East.

"Freakish," Ross said. "That's unbelievable. It's unreal. I got to see some guys like Nelson Cruz [with the Texas Rangers], and I was here actually when Josh Hamilton had those four home runs [in Baltimore on May 8, 2012]. But I've never seen anything like this, where it was like night and day -- boom, boom, boom. It was pretty special."

Special is probably the best word to describe Betts, who broke a scoreless stalemate with a three-run homer against Orioles starter Yovani Gallardo in the fifth inning, then snapped a 3-3 tie with a two-run shot in the eighth against reliever Brad Brach, who has been lights-out all season.

Betts leads the Red Sox with 28 homers, one more than David Ortiz. He either leads the league or ranks among the top 10 in multihit games (51), total bases (285), extra-base hits (67), batting average (.315), homers, RBIs (89), runs (93), hits (157), doubles (34), triples (5), steals (18), slugging (.571) and OPS (.926).

And Camden Yards is Betts' theater of the absurd. In five games here this season, he has seven homers -- more than any opponent has hit in a single season in Baltimore since the Orioles arrived from St. Louis in 1954, according to ESPN Stats & Info. He's 10-for-21 (.476) with a 1.476 slugging percentage on Eutaw Street, and 20-for-47 (.426) with a 1.000 slugging percentage in 11 games against the Orioles overall this season.

Once again, though, Modest Mookie claims he's at a loss for why he's such a charmed hitter in the Charm City.

"Just comfortable, I guess," he said. "I like it here, just Baltimore and the park and what not. Maybe that's the reason why."

Betts acted dumbstruck Monday to find himself in the cleanup spot for the first time he could remember -- "I was always thinking leadoff because I took pride in stealing bases," he said -- and insisted Tuesday night that he still doesn't consider himself a power hitter, even though all evidence screams otherwise.

"It's definitely weird," he said. "I've never been that in my life. I'm just going to enjoy it while it's here."

Regardless, when Hanley Ramirez returns Thursday from a three-day leave to attend to a death in the family in the Dominican Republic, manager John Farrell must keep Betts in the middle of the order. To not do so, after how comfortable Betts has looked in a run-producing role, would be among the more egregious mistakes by a manager whose every move has been second-guessed by many of his rabid critics.

"We talk so much about young players moving around the lineup, and he has not changed his approach in the four-hole," Farrell said. "He does not take on any added significance to the role or the spot in the lineup. He's in some kind of spot right now the way he's seeing the baseball, the way he's making such hard contact."

Modest Mookie shrugs and says he's "not trying" to hit for power, that it just comes natural. And that's where he nails it. Betts is really just this good, a 23-year-old legitimate MVP candidate in our midst.

"He's just got hands," Ross said. "Sometimes that's all you need. Sometimes you need all the muscle and everything, but it's just about connecting and gliding with that baseball. Sometimes it's the guys who are quiet and don't try and hit for a massive amount of power that hit it in the upper deck, guys who stay through it and let the bat do the work. He's throwing his hands through it, and it's just jumping off his bat. It's awesome."

The Mookie Betts Express will be in Baltimore for one more night Wednesday.

Don't miss it.