Drew proving why he's Mr. Clutch
Slugger excels after being question mark due to injuries
ST. PETERSBURG -- J.D. Drew spent the last moments of his evening at a delirious Fenway Park looking out over a set of microphones in an interview room, the clearest indication that something has either gone wonderfully right or woefully bad.
Just the fact that Drew was able to walk into that area as an active player was an achievement in itself. Not even certain there was room for him on an October roster, both Drew and the Red Sox are sure glad there was.
After missing six weeks with a troublesome back injury, the Boston outfielder came through with two more clutch hits on Thursday, forcing the American League Championship Series back to Tropicana Field for Game 6.
"Not only has he come back, but he's gotten huge hits," Red Sox manager Terry Francona said. "The more he keeps playing and the more he gets his legs under him, he's obviously a very dangerous hitter, and he's been able to show that."
It was Drew's eighth-inning home run off de facto closer Dan Wheeler that raised Boston's comeback level from improbable to inevitable, drawing the Red Sox within one run at 7-6 and further juicing a Fenway crowd that had been waiting a week for any reason to explode.
Then, facing left-hander J.P. Howell in the ninth inning, Drew came through with the swing that sent his club on to another game, lining what would be considered a ground-rule single into the Rays bullpen to set off an ecstatic celebration on the infield.
"I'm trying to get a rhythm going, missing six weeks of the season," Drew said. "I've found myself in a little bit of a bad rhythm, but I'm trying to work through it. I felt like I had some good at-bats and was able to get a ball in the middle of the plate and put a nice swing on it."
Without Drew's liner over the head of Rays right fielder Gabe Gross, the Red Sox would not have donned their practice jerseys for an optional workout at the Trop on Friday, speaking optimistically about two wins that would put them back in the World Series.
"It beats the alternative," Francona said. "As long as we're playing baseball, something is going right."
A herniated disc had, at one point, resigned Drew to the likelihood that he might not be helping the Red Sox in October. When it came about that he indeed was on the roster for the AL Division Series, the Red Sox weren't about to argue with their good fortune.
"He can impact the game at any time, not only hitting, but [with] speed, the way he plays the outfield and the way he throws," Dustin Pedroia said.
"It was definitely huge for us for him to get those hits. When he's swinging the bat like that, our offense is explosive. It makes the top-of-the-order guys' jobs a lot easier. All we've got to do is find a way to get on base and he's going to get us in."
|Biggest deficits overcome in postseason history|
|Red Sox||Rays||10/16/08||ALCS 5||7||8-7|
Missing so many at-bats in-season is not the ideal way to gear up to face playoff pitching, when each club has earned the right to move on to the next level by outperforming the vast majority of big league lineups.
But Drew has found ways to find the rhythm he needs, and few should have been surprised. When David Ortiz was sidelined with a wrist injury, Drew came to Boston's rescue with his best month of the season, hitting .337 with 12 homers and 27 RBIs in June -- this after collecting just four home runs and 22 RBIs in the first two months.
"He was Player of the Month, he hit third and he carried us, and we really needed it," Francona said. "Then he went down for about six weeks, and it was kind of iffy if he was even going to come back."
Added Jason Bay, who joined the Red Sox in July: "Sometimes he gets overlooked because he was out for a little bit, but everyone knows what he did in June. He's capable of doing huge things.
"Our offense had pretty much stunk for a couple of days straight, and then all of a sudden David wakes up and J.D. gets a hit. It kind of felt like things started rolling again."
|Since the ALCS became a best-of-seven series in 1985, six teams have taken a 3-2 edge into Game 6 with the home-field advantage. Three of those teams won Game 6 to advance to the World Series, one lost Game 6 but then won Game 7, and two teams lost both Games 6 and 7 at home.|
|Year||Led||Trailed||Games 6 and 7|
|1985||Tor.||K.C.||Tor. lost both|
|1992||Tor.||Oak.||Tor. won Gm 6|
|1998||NYY||Cle.||NYY won Gm 6|
|2000||NYY||Sea.||NYY won Gm 6|
|2003||NYY||Bos.||NYY lost Gm 6, won Gm 7|
|2004||NYY||Bos.||NYY lost both|
Bit by bit, Drew has pieced together something of a playoff resume with the Red Sox, where his run has been anything but smooth.
It was Drew's first-inning grand slam off Cleveland's Fausto Carmona in Game 6 of last year's ALCS that kick-started a 12-2 laugher, and his two-run homer off Francisco Rodriguez proved to be the deciding blast in Game 2 of this year's AL Division Series against the Angels.
"I feel fortunate to be in the playoffs and be able to participate," Drew said. "You know, my at-bats haven't always gone as I planned and as well as I've liked, but I'm battling through them and just trying to get good pitches to hit."
In the ninth inning of Game 5, Drew worked the count to 3-1 before he got a good look at a changeup in the zone. The drive sailed through the crisp air -- all under its own power, as the early evening gusts had finally left Fenway alone -- and one-hopped the right-field wall.
It would have been a game-winning ground-rule double, but Drew never managed to make it the 180 feet to second base. Touching first base was enough to ensure that Mark Kotsay had ample time to slap a cleat on home plate.
After rallying from seven runs down with seven outs to go, that was far enough for the Red Sox.
"What can you say? He stepped up and knew what he had to do," Jed Lowrie said. "He did it. That's the ultimate clutch performance right there. The guy hasn't played in a month, essentially, in the regular season, and he's been huge for us in the postseason so far."
Bryan Hoch is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.