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Stoico: Rookie Devers wasted no time making Red Sox history

  • Boston Red Sox's Rafael Devers hits a home run during the ninth inning of the team's baseball game against the New York Yankees on Sunday, Aug. 13, 2017, in New York. (AP Photo/Frank Franklin II) Frank Franklin II—AP

  • Tampa Bay Rays catcher Wilson Ramos, left, looks on as Boston Red Sox's Rafael Devers hits an infield grounder to score Dustin Pedroia from third base during the fourth inning of a baseball game Tuesday, Aug. 8, 2017, in St. Petersburg, Fla. (AP Photo/Steve Nesius) Steve Nesius—AP

  • Boston Red Sox third baseman Rafael Devers celebrates with teammates a baseball game at Fenway Park, Thursday, Aug. 3, 2017, in Boston. (AP Photo/Charles Krupa) Charles Krupa—AP



Monitor staff
Wednesday, August 16, 2017

If any member of Red Sox Nation shook an angry fist at Pablo Sandoval as he lifted a Max Scherzer pitch high and deep into the upper deck at Nationals Park on Sunday, I wouldn’t blame them.

But if anyone said or tweeted words of disdain toward Panda for his first home run back in a Giants uniform, there weren’t many. Times have changed quickly around here and there’s a new kid at Fenway named Rafael Devers, who has not only occupied the black hole at third base but seems to have finally sealed it.

The Nation has moved on.

So far, there’s no question the Red Sox are in a better place with Devers and without Sandoval. A tip of the hat to the dealmaker Dave Dombrowski for keeping a tight grip on Devers when White Sox General Manager Rick Hahn insisted he be packaged with Yoan Moncada and Michael Kopech for the deal that brought Chris Sale to Boston in December.

The 20-year-old Devers isn’t done developing, especially as a third baseman. Nobody questioned his ability as a hitter when he was called up July 24, but what he showed on the defensive side in the minors caused concern (four errors in eight games in Triple-A and 12 errors in 64 games in Double-A). Devers began a 5-4-3 triple play that got the Red Sox out of the fifth inning Wednesday night without allowing a run. It was the fifth triple play in baseball this season.

Since his debut, Devers has committed four errors on 37 chances with three in his last five games. It’s a big number in a small sample size, but flip the stat sheet to the offensive side. That’s where the truly large numbers are.

Devers was already off to a hot start with the bat in his hands before he crossed paths with Aroldis Chapman at Yankee Stadium on Sunday. Just a few hours after Panda sent his souvenir to fans perched in the nosebleeds in D.C., Devers drilled a pitch off Chapman that approached the plate at 102.8 mph before reversing course off the rookie’s bat at 105.9 mph. The ball soared long and high over the Bronx, traveling a projected 423 feet, according to Statcast.

Not only was it the first home run Chapman allowed since the World Series last October, it was the hardest hit pitch any player has taken for a home run since baseball officially began tracking pitch velocity in 2008.

Devers demands respect from major league pitchers. He got it that night in New York City.

The show carried into Monday where Devers went deep twice to opposite sides of the field for his first major league game with multiple home runs. But the Red Sox couldn’t muster a win against Cleveland, their division-leading counterpart in the AL Central, as Doug Fister allowed five runs in 4⅓ innings of work and Heath Hembree let another cross the plate.

Despite the loss, just their second in the previous 12 games, Devers made it feel all right. Since 1913, only two other Red Sox have turned in multiple home runs in a single game before turning 21. Ted Williams did it once and Tony Conigliaro did it four times. Those two are also the only other Red Sox to homer in back-to-back games before turning 21.

Heading into Tuesday’s game, Devers held a slash line of .339/.397/.677 with 12 RBI and six homers.

“What we’re seeing the last two days from Rafael Devers is nothing short of impressive,” Manager John Farrell told reporters Monday night. “You see the velocity he hit (Sunday) night. Tonight, with another fastball, he goes the other way and the fact that he hit a breaking ball that was basically on his shoetops, to hit it out of the ballpark, that’s very unique for any hitter at any age. It’s impressive.”

The Sox have built a comfortable lead heading into the second half of August, but with 28 games remaining against AL East opponents, the margin of error is thinner than it seems. Devers won’t stay this hot for all of those games, that’s obvious. Neither will Andrew Benintendi, who may be the hottest hitter this month, hitting .457 with five homers and 13 RBI. He and Devers have combined for seven home runs in the last four games.

They’ll need some help eventually from other parts of the lineup. For now, the Red Sox will ride the hot hands of its two youngest players as far as they’ll go.

(Nick Stoico can be reached at 369-3339, nstoico@cmonitor.com or on Twitter
@NickStoico.)