- On a team with Mookie Betts, Chris Sale, J.D. Martinez, David Price and so on, don't look past the Red Sox' 24-year-old leftfielder who's delivered in key moments this postseason.
BOSTON — The lockers of Andrew Benintendi and Brock Holt are adjacent to each other in the home clubhouse at Fenway Park, next to the door in the room’s northwest corner. About a half hour after the Red Sox had beaten the Dodgers 4-2 in Game 2 of this World Series to give themselves a 2-0 lead, the teammates sat side by side in front of their cubicles wearing towels around their waists. “You seen the photo yet?” Holt asked Benintendi as he held up his phone, Instagram open on its screen. Benintendi smiled. He hadn’t. “Wow, look at this catch,” Holt said. “That’s beyond, man.”
By then, Benintendi’s catch had already entered the second stage of its life cycle. The first was, simply, amazement. The second was memeification
He’d made it with no outs in the top of the fifth inning, and the Red Sox trailing 2-1. Brian Dozier yanked a 2-2 changeup from Boston starter David Price to left; the ball exited his bat at 92 miles per hour. It seemed certain to find the base of the Green Monster, the 8,000 unpadded square feet of pain and frustration that tends to greet most leftfielders who attempt to approach it at full speed. But the 24-year-old Benintendi has now played 170 games in its shadow, and he is not afraid of it. He turned and sprinted to his right at the crack of Dozier’s bat. As the top-spinning ball approached–and a flash of Benjamin Moore green entered his peripheral vision–he leapt, pointing his left toe in front of him and kicking up his right heel behind him. He extended both arms as far as he could, though the one that mattered was his right, the one with the glove attached to it. He snagged the ball and gracefully landed, decelerating on the warning track. It looked less like a baseball play than something that should be accompanied by Strauss’s ‘The Blue Danube’
“I honestly thought, when I jumped, that I was going to hit the wall,” Benintendi would say. “Thank god I didn’t.” The Monster remained untouched, and Benintendi unmaimed. He came down just in front of the section that displays the AL East standings, a reminder of the waste the Red Sox had laid to the rest of the division: eight games in front of New York, 18 in front of Tampa Bay, 35 in front of Toronto, and 61 in front of Baltimore.
Benintendi isn’t much talked about–not on a team that also includes Mookie Betts, J.D. Martinez, Chris Sale, David Price and Craig Kimbrel, and on and on–but he has introduced himself to national audiences this postseason (the diving, game-clinching catch in Game 4 of the ALCS; the four hits in Game 1 of the World Series, including three off of Clayton Kershaw), and, after his balletic grab on Wednesday night, he will no longer be overlooked.
In the bottom of the fifth, he made a less spectacular, though no less important, contribution. The Red Sox had mounted the beginnings of yet another two-out rally against the previously cruising Dodgers starter Hyun-Jin Ryu on a pair of singles by Christian Vazquez and Betts. Benintendi is a lefty, and Ryu is a lefty. Benintendi hit just .247 against southpaws this year, but Red Sox manager Alex Cora hadn’t even considered moving him down in the lineup against Ryu, just as he hadn’t against the similarly lefthanded Kershaw. “We talk about Mookie being the leadoff hitter–but I said, it’s been Mookie and Beni,” Cora explained. “And he’s been great.” So Benintendi dug in. He worked the count full, and then, as the Fenway crowd chanted his disyllabic nickname, he waited for Ryu’s curveball–a befuddling, looping, 78 mile-per-hour counterweight to his 92 mile-per-hour heater.
“Earlier in the game he threw a 3-2 curve to [Rafael] Devers, so it was in the back of my mind,” Benintendi explained. “I was just trying to foul it off and wait him out.” Ryu threw him one. Benintendi fouled it off. Ryu tried again. Benintendi fouled it off. With his eighth pitch, a frustrated Ryu unleashed a fastball low and inside, and Benintendi trotted to first.
The next batter, Steve Pearce, walked to tie the game at 2-2. Then Martinez lashed a line drive to right, making it 4-2–all the runs the Red Sox would need.
After Game 1, Cora noted that even though his Red Sox had won eight of their first ten games this postseason, his three most important hitters had yet to produce all at the same time. While Martinez had batted .313 through the first two rounds, with two home runs and nine RBIs, Betts was hitting just .205, and Benintendi .237. “We’re still waiting for those three guys to get hot all together,” Cora had said.
So far in the World Series, Benintendi is hitting .500, Betts is hitting .500, and Martinez is hitting .429, and the trio has combined to drive in five of the Red Sox’ 12 runs. They are hot all together, and that has led them to at least prepare for the possibility that this series won’t return to Boston.
As Benintendi and Holt stood in front of their lockers and packed their duffel bags for the team’s flight to Los Angeles, Benintendi held up an item he intended to bring with him. It was a pair of new ski goggles, the kind that players wear to protect their eyes from the sting of champagne, still wrapped in plastic. “Oooh, what are those?” Holt asked. “Fire lenses!”
Benintendi tucked them into his bag. Thanks in great measure to his performance in the fifth inning of Game 2–his acrobatics in left field and then his grinding patience in the batters’ box–there was a good chance he would need them at some point during the road trip.]