What's behind Xander Bogaerts' breakout season

 espn.com  06/14/2019 06:11:10 
Bogaerts goes yard to put Red Sox on top (0:27)

Xander Bogaerts hits the go-ahead home run in the bottom of the seventh inning en route to a 7-6 victory over the Rangers. (0:27)

BOSTON -- The same story has been written about the 2019 Boston Red Sox countless times. Inconsistency, inconsistency and inconsistency have been the buzzwords surrounding the defending World Series champions, and for much of Thursday night, things looked much the same. Just a day after avoiding slipping back to .500 with a Mookie Betts walk-off walk, Boston found itself in a tight hole quickly in the series finale against the Texas Rangers after David Price left the game after four outs, allowing six runs.

But the Red Sox did what they haven't done very often this season, chipping away at the big lead. When third baseman Rafael Devers returned to the dugout after his fifth-inning homer tied up the game at 6-6, shortstop Xander Bogaerts felt like he was due for something, especially after he'd told his aunt before the game that he'd try to hit a homer for her birthday.

"I'm due for one," Bogaerts told Devers. "I might come up clutch later in the game."

And just as promised, he delivered a seventh-inning, 389-foot solo shot that sailed over the Green Monster, sealing the Red Sox's 7-6 victory and a series split with Texas.

"I said it and I did it," Bogaerts said. "It's not like I was looking for a home run in that specific at-bat and you probably think I'm a magician now."

Game after game, in a season full of frustration, Bogaerts has been the biggest source of consistency for the Boston lineup, making major strides at the plate this season, hitting .295/.379/.531 with 19 doubles and 14 homers, on pace to hit 32 dingers, which would be a career high. Entering Thursday's game, the Red Sox shortstop led baseball with 29 hits and was tied for seventh with 18 RBIs in the seventh inning or later, and his 2.8 fWAR was second-best among shortstops. The 26-year-old isn't just coming into his own, he has thrust himself into the conversation of being the best shortstop in baseball.

"He's a huge part of our offense regardless of whether he's hot or not," Red Sox manager Alex Cora said. "He's a complete player. He bought into the concept of trying to hit .330 going the other way and doing damage. And all of a sudden, he's hitting .290-.300, all of those home runs, all of those doubles. I'm very happy for him. He's a guy who keeps working at his craft and keeps getting better. I'm glad we made that commitment early in the season with him."

In late March, Bogaerts and the Red Sox agreed to a six-year, $120 million contract that solidified the Aruba native's future in Boston. The extension, according to family members, took a lot of pressure off Bogaerts' shoulders, cementing his family's financial security instead of waiting for free agency after the season. Members of Bogaerts' family have seen him grow from an anxious 20-year-old playing in the World Series into a more patient man, and literally has brought that patience to the plate with a career-high walk rate of 12.2 percent.

"It's not like when I'm hitting I'm like, 'Oh, I got money already.' I would say it's much more relaxed than having to play the year out," Bogaerts said. "I don't know how that would've been because I'm not in that situation, but I think it would have been a little tougher playing without one and the way we started as a team, there could've been a lot of chatter, this and that. But I think it definitely helps knowing I was going to stay here for a long time hopefully."

Xander's twin brother, Jair, who spent time in the Red Sox and Cubs organizations, noticed a difference in his brother's demeanor immediately after the contract was signed, sealed and delivered. Xander had long been the antsy kid who just wanted his future settled. For the first time since Xander arrived in majors, Jair saw his brother play like he did in the minors, when he was a consensus top-two prospect in baseball. Loose and easy-going.

"We knew there was gonna be more production and numbers," Jair said. "We knew once the contract got out of the way, he would be this guy. He's putting up numbers, star-type numbers. But [in his career] he hasn't been Batman. He's Robin."

For much of his tenure in Boston, Bogaerts felt satisfied to sink into the background, putting in his work and doing his job in the field. During the young shortstop boom in the past decade, featuring stars such as Carlos Correa of the Houston Astros and Francisco Lindor of the Cleveland Indians, Bogaerts has flown a bit under the radar.

As more and more players younger than him began coming up from the minor leagues, the Red Sox shortstop recognized his standing in the clubhouse was changing, especially with his headline-grabbing contract. Bogaerts has taken Devers under his wing, which Cora partially credits for the third baseman's breakout first half. Michael Chavis credits Bogaerts in helping ease his transition to second base, a new position for the Boston rookie.

It has all made him realize that being Robin is no longer good enough.

"You could put it like that," Bogaerts said with a laugh after hearing his brother's comparison. "I feel a sense of responsibility. It comes with the territory. I got a lot of money, and if the team is feeling that type of way about you, you should own up to the responsibilities."

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