Youkilis becoming postseason star
Switching from first to third, batting cleanup -- what can't he do?
BOSTON -- He is the Swiss Army knife of baseball players. But versatility is just part of the beauty of Kevin Youkilis, the indispensable run producer for the Red Sox who has emerged into one of the best players in the game.
The numbers -- a .312 average, 43 doubles, four triples, 29 homers, 115 RBIs and a. 958 OPS (on-base plus slugging percentage) -- say quite a lot.
But they don't tell all.
For example, when the Red Sox traded the great Manny Ramirez to the Dodgers on July 31, there was suddenly a vacancy sign in the cleanup spot. Enter Youkilis, who provided immediate protection for David Ortiz.
Oh, then there was the most inopportune right hip injury to third baseman Mike Lowell, which finally gave the Red Sox no choice but to shut down the well-respected veteran before Game 4 of the AL Division Series.
Who would be the primary third baseman for the rest of the postseason? That would be Youkilis, a Gold Glove first baseman, who merely moved across the diamond and became reacquainted with the position he was groomed at in the Minor Leagues.
"He never says a word," said Red Sox manager Terry Francona. "I don't know if I've ever really felt the need to explain it to him. He just looks at the lineup card, sees where he is. As long as he's not hitting leadoff, he doesn't care. He'll play third, he'll play first, he's gone to the outfield a couple of times. He just does it. And he helps us win."
And over the past two Octobers, Youkilis is swiftly developing a reputation as one of those players who thrives on the big stage.
Dating back to last season, he has hit in all nine games he's played in the ALCS, doing so at a clip of .538 (20-for-38) with four homers and nine RBIs. The batting average is the highest in ALCS history for players with at least 30 at-bats, and so is the slugging percentage (.974) and on-base percentage (.581).
And as the 29-year-old Youkilis points out, why wouldn't he love playing this time of year?
"This is what you play for," Youkilis said. "A game April 15 against Tampa Bay, or any other team, is not that big a deal. But this is what you play for. This is where you make your name and also where you push your team to do the ultimate, in winning a World Series. That's the whole key -- trying to get big hits and do the little things."
And just like he did last year in helping the Red Sox in the World Series, Youkilis (.367 lifetime average in the postseason) is again coming through when it counts most.
"Maybe it's just been a coincidence," Youkilis said. "Hopefully I can just keep swinging good and helping this team the next couple of games."
Over at third base, Youkilis has made all the plays. In Game 2 of the ALDS, he even reached into the stands to make a brilliant snatch catch of a foul ball.
Is the old position becoming home again? Youkilis almost scoffs at the notion it wouldn't, perhaps not realizing that not all players could bounce back and forth so seamlessly.
"Well, I've always played third my whole life," Youkilis said. "It's not a big deal. I've played there ever since I was a little kid, so it's a more natural position than first base."
Playing for the Pirates, Jason Bay was aware of Youkilis and knew that he was a core member of the Red Sox. But he didn't quite grasp how valuable he was.
"I knew he was a solid player," Bay said. "I didn't realize when I first got here that his numbers were as good as they were. Then when you get to hit behind him every day, you realize that those numbers are almost even better than they look. Especially a guy that plays Gold Glove defense on either corner, which kind of puts us as a team in a better position. He's probably a guy that's not going to get a ton of accolades or a ton of publicity, but he's definitely an MVP-type guy."
In a year in which Ramirez was traded and Ortiz was hurt for a long stretch, Dustin Pedroia emerged as Boston's most frequently mentioned AL MVP Award candidate. But the players within the clubhouse haven't forgotten about Youkilis, even if sometimes the "experts" might.
"He's done a tremendous job all season and hasn't let down in the playoffs," said Jacoby Ellsbury. "He's a guy we rely on in big situations to come through."
"Unbelievable," added Red Sox reliever Manny Delcarmen. "They gave him the shot to hit fourth and you see what he's been doing. He hit close to 30 home runs and you see what he's been doing playing third base when Mikey is not there. He's just an all-around player and I'm just glad he's on our side."
Ian Browne is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.