Tomase: Rafael Devers is suddenly the best hitter in baseball originally appeared on NBC Sports Boston
The Red Sox concluded their most successful West Coast road trip in nearly three decades with plenty of unexpected contributions -- five shutout innings from emergency starter Kutter Crawford, a diving catch in right field from Rob Refsnyder -- but when it came time to put the exclamation point on this season-altering stretch, they had but one place to turn.
There's some irony in that verb choice, because "turn" is the last thing Rafael Devers did with a 94 mph Paul Sewald fastball on Sunday in Seattle.
The pitch was so far outside, you'd swear Devers could only have reached it by hopscotching over home plate, but he hammered it from the left-handed batter's box, sending a screaming line drive over the left field fence to provide the game's only offense in a 2-0 victory that sent the Red Sox back to Boston with eight wins in 10 games out west.
Since reaching Atlanta on May 10 with a 10-19 record, the Red Sox have been the hottest team in baseball. They're 22-10 in their last 32 games and have not only moved into the third wild card spot, a half game ahead of the Guardians, but they've pulled within 3.5 games of the Rays in the American League East. A month ago, they trailed Tampa by eight games.
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There are plenty of reasons for their turnaround -- Trevor Story's insane May, J.D. Martinez's resurgence, a starting rotation that suddenly doesn't surrender runs -- but at the center of it all is Devers, who is finally making a legitimate run at the title of best hitter in baseball.
With all due respect to Yankees slugger Aaron Judge, a resurgent Paul Goldschmidt out in St. Louis, and old friend Mookie Betts, no one has had a better month than Devers. Since the Red Sox began turning things around in Atlanta, Devers is hitting .359 with 10 homers and 24 RBIs. His 2.5 WAR leads MLB in that span. He's hitting .335 overall with 14 homers, 35 RBIs, and a league-leading 83 hits.
Sunday's home run highlighted his absurd gifts. Not only was the high fastball well off the plate, it came on an 0-2 count. Devers' teammates and coaches could only marvel.
"I mean, he's the only person I've ever seen do that," Martinez told reporters, including Ian Browne of MLB.com. "It's unbelievable. We talk about it all the time. He can cover so many pitches where a normal person can't. It's funny, because you'll see him chase pitches and you're like, 'Oh, he's chasing,' and in my mind, I'm like, 'He's hit that pitch out. I've seen him do it a million times.' It's impressive."
"Unreal," Boston manager Alex Cora added, also per Browne. "You have to be perfect to hit a ball like that. He was for that swing. That's why sometimes we talk about him being patient, controlling the zone. You cannot take away his aggressiveness. And he can do that with bad pitches. Two-strike approach, he went the other way. Us humans, we hit line drives the other way. He hits homers the other way with two strikes."
Even the Mariners had to give credit where it was due.
"There might be one or two hitters in this league that can even square that ball up, let alone hit it out of the ballpark," manager Scott Servais told reporters. "You have to tip your hat."
Devers celebrated during his postgame interviews with soft-serve ice cream and mused that he hopes the machine is still in the visiting clubhouse next year. The Red Sox can only hope he stays red-hot.