Youk can do it
Not your prototypical No. 2 hitter, first baseman plays big role
BOSTON -- The man with the bald head and the Jewish background has become a postseason favorite in mostly Irish-Catholic Boston. Who figured?But as the Red Sox return to the World Series for the second time in four years, Kevin Youkilis has become one of the driving forces behind Boston's latest postseason run. He's certainly not the prototypical No. 2 hitter behind leadoff rookie second baseman Dustin Pedroia. Youkilis doesn't bunt. He's not fleet-footed. He's not a real tablesetter. "But he's very important to us," said Red Sox third baseman Mike Lowell on the eve of Wednesday night's World Series opener pitting the Red Sox against the Rockies at Fenway Park. "The home runs are a bonus from Youk. I don't think we expect them from him, although, in my opinion, he has plus power. Especially this last series he did an unbelievable job: starting rallies, driving in runs, getting big hits." All he does is win. "I'm swinging the bat good right now," said Youkilis after the Red Sox worked out on Tuesday. "When you're swinging the bat good, good things happen. Sometimes you hit doubles. Sometimes you hit home runs. That's what happens when things are going good." Going good? The Red Sox haven't been to the World Series this often since the advent of the roaring '20s. They were here four times in seven seasons from 1912 (the year Fenway opened) to 1918 (the last time they won it all before sweeping the Cardinals in 2004). Otherwise, they made losing World Series visits in 1946, 1967, 1975 and 1986. And the Red Sox haven't celebrated a World Series title victory on Fenway turf since Sept. 11, 1918, when they defeated the Cubs, 2-1, in Game 6 of that series. The Red Sox celebrated winning the American League pennant here Sunday for the first time since 1986 with an 11-2, Game 7 AL Championship Series victory over the Indians. In the series, Youkilis batted .500 (14-for-28), scored an ALCS-record 10 runs and his 14 hits (at least one in each game) tied an LCS record. He drove in seven more. It was far and away the best postseason series by a Jewish position player since Hank Greenberg hit .357 (10-for-28) for the Tigers in a losing effort against Cincinnati in the 1940 World Series. "One of the most underrated things that [Youkilis] did was hitting that first-inning home run in Game 5," Lowell said about a game at Cleveland that Boston ran away with in the late innings. "It set the tone, because we put the pressure on them early. He's been huge for us." It's not that Youkilis didn't portend all this during the regular season, when he hit .288 with 16 homers and 83 RBIs while playing a flawless first base.
"He had a great year," said J.D. Drew, who, like Youkilis, is a first time hero for the Red Sox in the postseason. "He's been one of those guys who has grinded out at-bats and has been key at the top of the lineup getting on base and doing things that you need to do in front of those guys. It was a huge series for him and for us as well."Having a No. 5-type hitter in the No. 2 hole has obviously had amazing benefits. But Youkilis isn't taking much credit for it. "You're just looking for a guy to get on base," he said. "I think the game has changed, though. It's not the same as the days of Johnny Pesky: get on and move 'em over. In New York, there's Derek Jeter. It isn't a guy who just bunts. I'm comfortable there." And Youkilis said he'll be just as comfortable when the series shifts to Denver this coming weekend and there's no designated hitter in the lineup per National League rules. To that end, David Ortiz took grounders during practice Tuesday, limbering up to play first base, the position Youkilis normally occupies. "You've got to look back to the 2004 World Series, and I think David played first base [in St. Louis]," Youkilis said. "That's my guess. I don't know anything much else about it. But that's down the road. We've got to worry about Game 1. We can't worry about Game 3." Ortiz did start both games, Boston victories. But the Red Sox didn't have this kind of depth back then. Kevin Millar was the starter at first with Ortiz as the designated hitter in the first two games at Fenway. And according to his contemporaries this time, it's going to be awfully tough to take Youkilis out of the lineup. "Youk has been unbelievable," Pedroia said. "David and Manny [Ramirez] aren't even getting the opportunity to drive me in if I'm on base. Youk is doing the job. It's been great."
Barry M. Bloom is a national reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.