Excluding Friday night’s game at Tampa, the Red Sox had 14 games left in this 2020 season, and it’s worth exploring the motivations behind recent performances by certain players.
Rafael Devers, Bobby Dalbec and Mike Kickham were the standouts on Thursday night at Tropicana Field. Devers and Dalbec both homered while Kickham enjoyed his best outing since July 2013.
The worst team in the American League East beat the best. Boston squeezed out a 4-3 victory, its fourth win in its last six games.
Devers is on a four-game hitting streak thanks to two singles and a two-run homer. He’s pounded out six extra-base hits in that span and has 16 in his last 26 games. Devers managed just six extra-base hits through his first 20 games of this lost season.
“I’m just coming into work every single day like I’m supposed to and just putting in the work and trying to get better and better,” Devers said through translator Bryan Almonte. “Obviously during the beginning of the season things weren’t going my way, but now that they are I’m starting to reap the benefits.”
Devers turns 24 in October. He’s still a young player establishing himself as one of the top offensive third basemen in the game. The Red Sox aren’t going anywhere barring a seemingly impossible winning streak, but personal motivation stretches beyond the team’s current track outside the playoffs.
“I would come here every day happy, but I would still be frustrated with the way things were going for me,” Devers said. “I just understood that was part of the game and I continued to go after it and tried to just improve and tried to get better every day. Now I’m hitting the ball better.”
Dalbec drove a solo home run to right field leading off the top of the fifth inning, his fifth in as many games. He became the fifth player in Major League Baseball history to crack as many as six home runs through his first 10 career games. No other Red Sox rookie has gone deep in as many as four straight.
“Pretty cool seeing Bobby coming up his first year and doing this,” Red Sox manager Ron Roenicke said. “It’s pretty amazing, actually.”
Dalbec struck out in his first at-bat against Josh Fleming and eventually took a hat trick on the night. His final line is likely something we’ll see often over the course of his career. But fanning is nothing new to Dalbec, and putting those at-bats behind him is something he’s been forced to practice at every level dating to his college career at Arizona.
“I guess the thing I like is after he strikes out he’s not down,” Roenicke said. “There’s still a lot of fight in him. When you strike out, it’s easy to get down and get upset about it, and then you don’t bounce back and have that same fight in you.”
Kickham is a 31-year-old who made just 18 appearances in the minor leagues in 2015 and 2016. He rattled around independent leagues at times awaiting his next chance. The left-hander was stuck on the 14 appearances he made with the Giants for six years before being recalled by Boston on Aug. 31.
“Getting back into pro ball and getting back to the big leagues, that was something I was able to accomplish this year,” Kickham said. “That’s very important to me.
“Now the next goal is to stick at this level and have success. Now that’s my focus. A strong finish to this month and I’ll set myself up good going into next year.”
Kickham’s eight strikeouts in four innings against the Rays bettered the six he posted in a July 2013 outing with San Francisco. Tampa Bay hitters went down 17 times in all against five Red Sox pitchers. Kickham picked his way through the lineup while throwing just eight four-seam fastballs and a lone sinker among his 65 pitches.
“I’ve added the cutter,” Kickham said. “That’s something I didn’t have early in my career. It’s something I’ve developed when I found myself in indy ball and just kind of honed that on the journey all the way back into affiliated. That’s kind of my foundation.”
Devers, Dalbec and Kickham would seem to have little in common at first glance. They’re different ages and at different stages in their professional careers. But they all have something to prove in their own way, and that helped lift Boston to victory on Thursday.
On Twitter: @BillKoch25