It's not that Benintendi has been bad. On the contrary, and as Red Sox lefty David Price notes, "there's a lot of guys in baseball that wish they had a .275 average and 11 or 12 home runs." For a 22-year-old in his first full big league season, Benintendi is doing just fine, thank you very much.
But think back to the hype that followed Benintendi to spring training and into the season. Even Chicago Cubs manager Joe Maddon called him "Freddy Lynn reincarnated." Benintendi was practically handed the Rookie of the Year award by acclamation, and that was before his Opening Day home run at Fenway Park.
It isn't turning out quite that way, and not just because New York Yankees phenom Aaron Judge is hitting homers so high and so far and so often that he's putting dents in Yankee Stadium. An 0-for-26 drought in May followed by a 1-for-23 slump has proven that Benintendi isn't immune to the struggles that befall all young players. Pitchers change their attack plan against hitters, forcing hitters to respond. It's the same story, over and over, from time immemorial.
On Tuesday night, though, Benintendi reminded everyone of what all the fuss was about. He went 5-for-5 with two home runs and six RBIs and made a terrific leaping catch against the wall in left field. The Red Sox routed the Texas Rangers, 11-4, behind six shutout innings from Price. They have won six consecutive games, outscored opponents 67-25 in their past eight games and built a four-game lead over the Yankees in the American League East.
You might say the Red Sox are finally playing the way everyone expected them to. In time, Benintendi will do the same, at least on a more consistent basis.
"He's been forced to make some adjustments and he's done that," manager John Farrell said. "Particularly as he's gone from a guy who has used the whole field to maybe got a little pull-oriented, then had to readjust to use the whole field. He's doing that. A really talented young guy."
Benintendi began the season batting second in the order. When the Red Sox were scuffling for runs in May, they moved him to the cleanup spot. Against Rangers ace Yu Darvish on Tuesday, Benintendi batted sixth. And against lefties, he hasn't played much at all, with Farrell preferring to get righty-hitting outfielder Chris Young in the lineup and center fielder Jackie Bradley Jr. raking against left-handed pitching.
On Monday night, Benintendi came off the bench late in the game and delivered the go-ahead hit, a bloop single into left field in the 11th inning. It was a welcome sight, Benintendi said, "just to see one kind of fall in like that, and maybe it kind of loosened me up a little bit."
Benintendi couldn't have been any more comfortable at the plate against Darvish. He singled home the Red Sox's first run in the second inning, then doubled and scored in the fourth and hit a three-run homer to right field in the fifth. He lined a two-out RBI single in the sixth and went deep to lead off the eighth against reliever Nick Martinez.
"After that first one kind of squibbed through, baseball kind of works like that sometimes and that just kind of gets you going," Benintendi said. "It felt like guys were on in front of me every at-bat, so it took a lot of pressure off me."
In a strange way, going through slumps has lightened the load on Benintendi, too. Considering he rarely struggled during two seasons at the University of Arkansas and blazed through the minor leagues after being drafted in the first round in 2015, it was the first time in a while that he realized he isn't infallible.
"Just going through those slumps and learning from it and trying to prevent that again," Benintendi said. "I'm still trying to learn the tendencies of other pitchers against me. Still trying to learn a lot and just incorporate it."
After getting called up last season and through the early part of this year, Benintendi said he saw primarily fastballs. Since then, he has been pitched away with offspeed stuff "maybe just to take a little sting out of the bat," Benintendi said.
But the better Benintendi gets at recognizing the trends and adjusting to them, the better off he will be. And as for those Rookie of the Year votes that almost certainly will go to Judge, Benintendi said, "I'm not worried about it. I'm more focused on helping the team win games. Whatever happens, happens."
So, Benintendi probably won't replicate Lynn's Rookie of the Year/MVP combination from 1975. But he will always have this: According to research by the Elias Sports Bureau, Benintendi is the first player since Arizona's Junior Spivey in 2001 to have two five-hit games in his rookie season. No Red Sox rookie has ever done that. Not even Lynn.
"He's a stud, man," Price said. "We saw what he did last year whenever he came up, skipping Triple-A and swinging the bat the way he did the rest of the year. He's a good player."