BOSTON -- The emerging power of Mookie Betts allowed the recently-installed cleanup man to reach a special place in Red Sox history on Monday night.
When Betts clubbed his 30th homer run, a towering shot off a sign behind the Monster Seats in the second inning of the Red Sox's 9-4 win vs. the Rays, he became just the third Boston player to reach that number in a season before turning 24 years old.
The others? Hall of Famer Ted Williams, who did it in 1939 and '41, and Tony Conigliaro, who achieved the feat in '65.
"You know, conversations are starting to happen where you look at David [Ortiz], the neighborhood that he's keeping now and now Mookie at his age for what he's producing is not only strong but it's very rare," said Red Sox manager John Farrell. "What he's doing in the second half now is well above I think maybe what we expected coming into the second half of this season. There's no sign of any fading in Mookie."
In fact, Betts is at the top of his game of late, hitting .441 over his last eight games. On several occasions on Monday, the Fenway faithful roared "MVP" when Betts was at the plate.
"It was pretty cool," Betts said of the chants, "but there are guys around the league doing more than I am. It's cool to be a part of that, but I've got to know that what we're doing -- we're in a race right now -- and that's way more important."
According to Statcast™, the ball had an exit velocity of 101.2 mph and was projected to land 402 feet away from home plate.
The fact the Red Sox are right in the heart of contention, trailing the Blue Jays in the American League East by two games while leading the Orioles in the AL Wild Card standings by that same number, will only help the MVP candidacy of Betts.
"I saw it coming," said Red Sox third baseman Travis Shaw. "I told him earlier this year he could hit 25 to 30 home runs. He thought I was crazy. You could just see it last year, because the way he makes contact, it's with authority. I could see that power coming, but every single month he seems to get better and better and better. His average is up in the .320s now and he's a legitimate MVP candidate."
The last Red Sox player to win the MVP was Dustin Pedroia in 2008. The fiery second baseman, who was traveling back to Boston from funeral services during Tuesday's game, sent Betts a text.
"I got a text from Pedey that said, 'Congrats, now turn the page.' That's the kind of mindset we have," said Betts. "So obviously we're in a race right now and that's way more important than homers."
Betts is slashing .322/.361/.566 while adding 35 doubles, five triples and 96 RBIs.
"It's even better that he's such a great kid and he's a good teammate. It's an honor playing with him," said Red Sox righty Rick Porcello, who won Monday to improve to 18-3.
Betts turns 24 on Oct. 7, five days after the regular season ends. At that point, the right fielder hopes to be participating in the postseason for the first time.
When the Red Sox drafted Betts as a middle infielder in 2011, it was hard to envision he would develop this type of power. His career high in the Minor Leagues was 15 in 2013. Betts used to be known more for his speed than his power. But his lightning-quick hands have helped turn him into a home run hitter.
Betts had 18 homers over 597 at-bats in his first full season in the Majors Leagues last year.
After hitting leadoff for most of his career, Betts was moved to the third spot on Aug. 10, and cleanup five days later, where he has remained over the last couple of weeks.
"He's responded extremely well to the four-hole," said Farrell. "It's allowed our lineup to have a little bit different look to it and maybe a little bit more balance with him in that spot. He's a main contributor, obviously, with what we're doing offensively."
Ian Browne has covered the Red Sox for MLB.com since 2002. Follow him on Twitter @IanMBrowne and Facebook. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.