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Sunday, July 29, 2012

No Win for Lester, but a Milestone (and Reminder)

Lester takes a step away from the darkness.

Although Jon Lester did not emerge as the winning pitcher in Boston's 8-6 victory over the Yankees last night, he did reach a milestone that serves as a reminder of just how good he's been in the past -- and could be again. 

Lester's final strikeout of the game, a whiff of dangerous Robinson Cano in the bottom of the sixth inning, gave the struggling hurler 1,000 strikeouts in his career. Just six Red Sox pitchers have reached this mark, and Lester is only the second left-hander after Bruce Hurst. Another 44 whiffs and he'll be No. 1 among all Boston lefties.

It's easy to forget just how impressive Lester's career numbers were before last September's meltdown, which has extended through all of this season, but here are a few samples:

  • Lester needed just 1,084 innings to reach 1,000 strikeouts. His average of nearly a strikeout an inning is second in team history to Pedro Martinez, and ahead of Roger Clemens.
  • Lester's .691 career winning percentage entering this year was the second-best in club annals (behind Pedro) among pitchers with 100 or more decisions.
  • Lester's postseason ERA as a starter is 2.35 over six games, including the clinching win of the 2007 World Series. Hurst (at 2.29) is the only pitcher in the post-1920 era who has done better among Red Sox starters with 30-plus playoff innings.
Yes, none of this eliminates the problems Lester has struggled with this season, and in fact one can argue these numbers only make what's happening now more frustrating. Even this game, in which the Red Sox scored three times in the sixth to stake Lester to a 6-1 lead, then watched him promptly give back all three runs in the bottom of the frame, was not close to what Big Jon has done in the past.

It was, however, a whole lot better than the four-inning, 11-run debacle Lester had against Toronto and although the Yanks did get three homers off the lefty, they only had one other hit (and two walks) against him over six innings. He also had six strikeouts.

 Lester's 2008 No-Hitter -- Can he re-find the right stuff?

It wasn't very pretty, and it wasn't even enough for Lester's sixth win of the season thanks to some shoddy relief work from Vicente Padilla. But it was a victory, and right now that's what is most important to the Red Sox and their erstwhile ace.

Friday, July 27, 2012

Sox Surprise: Wakefield to start Saturday for Lester

Fenway Friday Fiction

Bobby Valentine hopes Wakefield has a bit more left.

In a surprise move after tonight's 10-3 loss in New York, Red Sox manager Bobby Valentine announced that pitcher Tim Wakefield would be starting Saturday afternoon's game against the Yankees in place of beleaguered lefty Jon Lester.

"Wake has been working out with Phil Neikro for the past several weeks, and the ball is really dancing," said Valentine of the right-handed knuckleballer, who retired during spring training but was contacted by Boston management last month and told to prepare himself for possible activation. "We think Tim may be able to give us just the boost we need."

Lester, who is 5-8 with a 5.46 ERA this season, was told of the decision earlier in the week and sworn to secrecy. Lester allowed a career-worst 11 earned runs in four-plus innings during his last start Sunday against Toronto, and has been working with a hypnotist and former Red Sox catcher Jason Varitek this week in private indoor sessions at Newton North High School. Lester could not be reached for comment.

The Red Sox, 49-51 and in last place in the American League East, are in danger of falling out of wild card-contention heading into August. After Friday's defeat Boston is in eighth place in the wild card race -- five full games behind current leaders Los Angeles and Oakland pending late West Coast games. It is unclear when Lester will start again, but Valentine suggested it depended on Wakefield's perforance Saturday.

Jon Lester is working through his issues.

Wakefield, third in Red Sox history behind Cy Young and Roger Clemens with 186 victories, turns 46 next Thursday and will be one of the oldest men ever to pitch in the majors at Yankee Stadium. He is used to performing under pressure in this venue, having done so in the epic ALCS matchups between the Yankees and Red Sox in 2003-04. "I think I remember the place pretty well," he quipped when reached by reporters in Boston, where he too has been pitching in secrecy at Northeastern University.

The Yankees certainly remember him. Informed of Wakefield's pending start, Yankees general manager Brian Cashman announced that he was putting a call in to Aaron Boone to see if the former infielder could come to New York and throw out the ceremonial first pitch before Saturday's game. While with the Yankees in 2003, Boone hit an 11th-inning, Game 7 home run off Wakefield to clinch the American League championship.

To make room on the roster for Wakefield, Boston has placed pitcher Mark Melancon on the disabled list.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Nine creative steps to get through a Jon Lester Sunday at Fenway

 It was tough for us to look at too, Jon.
Jon Lester summed up yesterday’s 15-7 game at Fenway Park quite succinctly when he said, “I’m not a big fan of sucking.” Neither are those of us who watched from the stands as Toronto completed its weekend sweep of the Red Sox, but at least Lester got to leave midway through the fifth inning. What about those of us determined to sit through all nine – how did we do it?

Here’s how:

Coming prepared for anything. A first-pitch home run by Brett Lawrie off Lester? Five Toronto runs in the top of the first? Par for the course with the 2012 Red Sox, who have made first-inning deficits an art form. Lester started this game needing to show he could be an ace in the hole for the Sox, but he left out the ace part once again.
A familiar sight this summer at Fenway.
 Cheering on a comeback – Part I. When Adrian Gonzalez smashed a home run in the bottom of the first, we exploded to our feet and thought maybe today would be different. You would think after 97 games we would know better.

Distracting ourselves with fun diversions. This came in real handy in the second inning when the Blue Jays scored four more times to deflate our enthusiasm and take a 9-3 lead. My sister Julie had brought her friend Laura to the game, and just as Toronto was finishing its second time around the batting order, Laura’s cell phone rang. It was her sister Emma, calling from England with news that she had just given birth to a baby girl. Nothing like the smile of a brand-new aunt to (briefly) get your mind off a six-run deficit.
Great news for Laura -- and a deterrent for us.

Playing nice with opposing fans. This can be tough sometimes, especially with loudmouths from Yankee Country, but the Pearce family of Toronto proved delightful next-row neighbors. Three generations of the clan were visiting Fenway for the first time, and needless to say they were quite happy most of the afternoon. At least somebody was.
All's well for the Pearce family.
Speculating how Bobby Valentine would answer the inevitable postgame question, “Why did you leave Lester in so long?” This was the subject of much discussion in the fifth, when a Travis Snider homer – the fourth allowed by Big Jon – stretched Toronto’s lead to 11-4. The Sox had scored a run in the fourth, and in Fenway a five-run deficit is not entirely insurmountable. Seven runs feels a bit worse.

Looking for silver linings. The most obvious one in the middle innings was Boston right-hander Junichi Tazawa, who mercifully replaced Lester after the Snider smash and proceeded to throw three innings of two-hit, five-strikeout, shutout relief. Another was Jacoby Ellsbury’s first home run of the season leading off the bottom of the fifth.
Tawaza kept things interesting.
Cheering on a comeback – Part II. Ellsbury’s homer and two more Boston runs driven in by end-of-the-lineup guys Mike Aviles and Nick Punto in the sixth made it 11-7, and got our hopes up again. When Tazawa struck out the side in the seventh – punctuated by a 95-mile-an-hour heater to overpowered catcher Jeff Mathis – he got a standing ovation from the sun-splashed crowd. Maybe, just maybe….

Heckling “Sweet Caroline.” Four more Toronto runs in the eighth made it 15-7, and when the inning ended my semi-regular weekend seatmates (the two Nancys) started shouting “NO! NO!” when Neil Diamond’s Fenway anthem came over the loudspeakers. I quickly joined them, and even came up with my own revised lyrics – instead of the fist-pumping “Da! Da! Da!” I yelled “Buy! A! Brick!” at the ridiculous people who could actually sing with the season going down the toilet – and would blithely be purchasing a commemorative Fenway Park 100th anniversary brick or two after the game.

"Sweeet Caroline....BUY A BRICK!"
Congratulating my son for sticking it out. Jason comes from good tough Red Sox stock, and on his first visit to Fenway at age two sat through most of a 14-inning marathon. But rather than joining the 25,000 or so folks who left after the bottom of the eighth and gave the ballpark a Butch Hobson era feel, he stayed until the end and even donned a rally cap for the 1-2-3 Red Sox ninth. I got him a beautiful Dwight Evans card (complete with a piece of a real Dewey bat) as a reward, and the smile on his face helped soften the angst of the day a bit.
Jason and Julie hold out hope -- for another day.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Please, no more “consistent” starts from Josh Beckett

It must be the end of the first.

There were a lot of late-arriving fans at Fenway Park Friday night, and they had the right idea: this year, with Josh Beckett pitching, the worst parts of the game for the Red Sox almost always come early.

Beckett had another dismal start to his start, and the Red Sox were down 4-0 to the Blue Jays after just two innings. A few hours before the game, Red Sox general manager Ben Cherington had told Tony Massarotti of 98.5 The Sports Hub that Beckett has “been very consistent if you look at the entire year.”

That seems like a stretch, unless you consider the early parts of games – when the Texas Chicken King has been consistently bad.

Beckett allowed two runs in the first inning Friday, raising his first-inning ERA to 10.69 for the season. He allowed two more in the second, and has now averaged 6.65 runs allowed over the first three innings of his 16 starts. The fact he does far better from the fourth inning on is of little consolation; Beckett consistently puts the Red Sox in an early hole, and the team has won just six of his starts.
The Sox need Beckett to raise his game -- before it's too late.

This latest lackluster start was especially frustrating coming on the heels of Boston's exhilarating walk-off win Thursday, and left fans wondering once again if the Red Sox can ever turn this season around. It also again raises the question of how long it will take before Cherington and the Red Sox brass say enough is enough and dump the Texas Chicken King.

When Massarotti asked Cherington Friday whether Beckett (now 5-8) or fellow underachieving starter Jon Lester (5-7) was on the trading block,the GM would not confirm either way but did say that the clubhouse problems that helped derail last year's team have not been a factor in this year's struggles.

“I haven't seen anything from anybody in our clubhouse this year, including the pitchers, that has been anything but professionalism and trying to get the job done on the field,” Cherington said.

The beer is gone -- but where are the wins?

There may be no longer be beer and chicken to worry about, but with the team now 12-22 in games pitched by its two “aces,” more than the menu has to change if Boston expects to stay in the wildcard hunt.

Tomorrow it's Lester's turn in the rotation. The trade deadline is July 31. Red Sox Nation is watching.

Friday, July 13, 2012

Reasons to stay positive about the Red Sox -- for now

Ellsbury is back -- but is it too late?

If you have been listening to sports talk radio in Boston during the past four days, you know that fans and media pundits have all but thrown in their Morgan Magic towels on the 2012 Red Sox season.

They believe Ben Cherington should trade Josh Beckett or Jon Lester to break up the dysfunctional, disappointing pitching staff, bring in more young kids and start playing for next season. Bobby Valentine should be shown the door at year's end as well, unless he somehow steers this miserable ship into the postseason.

But as much as there is reason for fans to be frustrated, there are still 76 more games to play—and a lot of big changes on the horizon for the team. There are also several very plausible scenarios that could work out in Boston's favor. Call me a 100th-anniversary-toast-cup-full kind of guy, but I'm not ready to give up just yet.

Why should Red Sox fans stay positive? Here are a few reasons:

Boston fans hope Jacoby has plenty to smile about.

After missing almost the entire season with a shoulder injury suffered on April 13, Gold Glove outfielder Jacoby Ellsbury is expected to be in the Boston lineup for tonight's game against the Rays. The 2011 AL MVP runner-up had a 30-30 season last year and was one of the few Red Sox players not to wilt in September.

While it can't be expected that Ellsbury returns to his 2011 form immediately, he should immediately give the team a boost offensively and defensively. And if he takes a while getting into form, Valentine has Daniel Nava—who filled in very admirably in Ellsbury's absence—to step in when needed.

Like Nava, who was not even invited to spring training, Will Middlebrooks has given the Red Sox far more than they ever expected in his first season. His hustle, steady defense and production—10 homers and 37 RBI in just 48 games—prompted management to trade incumbent third baseman Kevin Youkilis and hand his job to the rookie.

Middlebrooks has perfected the Youk glare.

A sore hamstring has kept Middlebrooks on the shelf for the last seven games, but he's back tonight as well. Even if he can't keep up his .298 batting average, he's a big upgrade at third from Nick Punto, a .212 hitter with just eight RBI in 49 games.

On the surface, the 2012 season has been a disaster for Boston's top three starters. The team is just 12-20 in games started by Josh Beckett and Jon Lester, and Clay Buchholz has been on the disabled list since June 24 with a gastrointestinal bleed.

Forget about the wings -- just win.

But things may not be as dismal as they seem. Buchholz was 4-0 with a 2.40 ERA in four June starts before his illness kicked in, and since it was a non-pitching-related injury, there is good reason to believe he'll return to that form. He looked strong in a rehab appearance for Pawtucket, and is slated to start Sunday's game against the Rays.

Beckett and Lester have been major disappointments, no doubt about it. Watching each of them get shelled in the first inning in their starts against the Yankees was maddening to Boston fans. But before sending one or both of them out of town, management should show a little more patience.

Throw out the New York outing, and Beckett had been pitching much better of late—with a 3.80 ERA in eight starts during May and June. And while Lester is just 5-6, his strikeout-walk ratio and WHIP are not too far off his terrific career averages. 

There is still time for both these guys to turn things around.

Dustin Pedroia is small in stature but huge on guts. He played weeks with a thumb injury that resulted in one of the worst slumps of his career, before finally relenting and going on the disabled list.

David Ortiz and Co. can't wait for Petey's return.

He's expected back for the Toronto series starting July 20, and since his cast came off a week earlier than originally anticipated, chances are the injury was less serious than initially feared.

Everybody in baseball knows that Pedroia is not a .266 hitter. He won't be the rest of the season.

Before fans write off Carl Crawford as the worst free agent signing in Red Sox history, they should give the guy another chance to show what he can do.

Carl Crawford has something to prove.

He was a Gold Glove outfielder and a Silver Bat hitter in Florida, and at age 30 should still be in his prime. His first year in Boston was a dud, for sure, but we all know what the Boston pressure can do to players—especially those coming from places like Tampa Bay, where baseball is not religion.

Crawford has a reputation as a hard-working, smart, determined athlete. Surely missing this entire season with a succession of injuries has been difficult for him, and now that he knows how tough things can get in Boston, he won't be surprised the second time around.

Fan expectations are down. That might be just what Crawford—and the rest of the Red Sox—need to turn things around.

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Fenway Red Sox win appeal, will start Sunday game vs. Yankees in second inning

Bobby Valentine hopes his idea works.

(Fenway Fiction We'd Like to Become Fact...)

In an unprecedented move, MLB Commissioner Bud Selig has granted a request by the Red Sox to start Sunday's night's game against the Yankees at Fenway Park in the second inning.

"I think it's in the best interests of baseball," said Selig, who made his decision after a late-night discussion with Boston manager Bobby Valentine. "We were getting complaints from FOX and NESN that hundreds of thousands of viewers were switching over to other networks after the top of the first, and if the Red Sox lose their television revenue they won't be able to compete with the Yankees and maintain the economic integrity of their rivalry."

Valentine made his call to Selig from the Boston dugout at 7:15 p.m. Saturday night, just after Felix Doubront allowed a three-run homer to Mark Teixeira in the top of the first. The Red Sox had allowed four runs in the first during the first game of Saturday's doubleheader, and five runs in the initial inning on Friday night -- when the Yankees batted around against Boston starter Josh Beckett.

The Red Sox did rally to win Saturday's second contest, 9-5, but Selig felt that there was enough evidence of a first-inning conspiracy to warrant making the change. Based on how things go Sunday, he may allow the Red Sox to continue starting games in the second after the All-Star break.

Pedro Ciriaco bailed out the Sox Saturday night.  

"The games will still go nine innings, but they will end in the 10th instead of the 9th," explains Selig. "Think of it like Spinal Tap, where the amp volume goes up to "11." We're doing what we think will make the games more enjoyable for baseball fans."

After allowing 12 first-inning runs in the past three games to New York, Valentine says he hopes that the switch will be "just what the doctor ordered" for his struggling starting pitchers. "We have to stop letting the horse out of the corral so fast," he said.

"I'm pumped," says Boston lefty Jon Lester, who is slated to start Sunday night's game at Fenway against New York's Ivan Nova. "We've been feeling real tight in the first inning lately, and once we loosen up we play better. By getting rid of the first, we should be loose from the start."

MLB Historian John Thorn has found no evidence of games started in the second inning in big league history, although he says Satchel Paige claimed to have pitched the first inning of Negro League games with his teammates in the dugout to psych out opponents.

Friday, July 6, 2012

Papi's First-Half Resurgence: Taking a Closer Look

No. 400 for Ortiz was a No-Doubter.

The "teaser" headline on the front page of Thursday's Boston Globe was simple and to the point: Ortiz clouts No. 400 as Sox drop another.

In a way, it was a perfect summary of the entire first half of the Red Sox season.

After 82 games, just past the official midpoint of the campaign, the Red Sox are a lackluster 42-40 entering this weekend's big series against the first-place Yankees. Injuries and underachievement have rattled the team, but there has been one star performer who has excelled all year -- David Ortiz.

Boston's lone All-Star selectee has been incredibly consistent in reaching mid-year totals of 22 homers, 55 RBI, and a .302 batting average. Big Papi had 6 homers and 20 RBI n April, 6 and 15 in May, and 9 and 18 in June. His average has never fallen below .300.

Across the board, Ortiz has been among baseball's best in his 10th year with the Red Sox. His .607 slugging average and .997 OPS rank him second to only Josh Hamilton in the American League, and he trails only Ian Kinsler with 60 runs scored. His 24 doubles tie him with teammate Adrian Gonzalez for fifth in that department. His 46 extra-base hits leads the AL.

Another hug for the big guy back in the dugout. 

Although Boston ended its awful West Coast road trip with a 3-2 loss at Oakland on July 4, Ortiz reached a milestone: the 400th homer of his career. He has hit 342 of them for the Red Sox, placing him fifth all-time in franchise history. At his current pace he could pass Dwight Evans (379 with Boston) and Jim Rice (382) on that list by early next year; leaders Ted Williams (521) and Carl Yastrzemski (452) seem safe for now, but with Big Papi you never know.

Even after a fine 2011 season by Ortiz (.309, 29, 96), this resurgence has surprised many. Big Papi hit just one home run during last September's epic meltdown by Boston, and at age 36 entering this spring was well into the period when many big-bodied sluggers start to slip.

But Ortiz, frustrated by the team's unwillingness to give him a two-year contract last season, came to spring training roughly 25 pounds lighter and ready to prove his worth. His quickened bat speed was apparent from the start, and he hit a resounding .405 in April. 

He couldn't keep that up, of course, but he has continued to bash the ball with more authority (and more often) than in years. Ortiz's 45 strikeouts have him on pace to finish well below the 100 mark that he's topped six times. Baseball's greatest designated hitter's even flashed some impressive leather in interleague play, handling 56 chances flawlessly in seven games at first base against NL competition (with a few "Web-Gem" worthy plays). 

His offensive numbers would be even more gaudy if Dustin Pedroia and Adrian Gonzalez were having their typical .300-plus seasons around him in the order. One or both of this pair always seemed to be on base when Papi -- usually batting fifth -- came up last year. Both have slumped severely at different points this season, however, and Pedroia is now going back on the disabled list.

Pitchers have taken advantage by handling Ortiz more carefully, and he leads the AL with 10 intentional walks. Unexpected pop from catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia (16 homers), who often bats after Papi, has helped keep that total from going even higher.

Now, with Gonzalez starting to hit and 2011 MVP runner-up Jacoby Ellsbury slated to rejoin the team later in July, Ortiz could find himself with a lot more RBI opportunities in the second half. His trimmed-down figure should be helpful in the dog days of August, and with Boston expected to be in a dogfight for a playoff spot, Big Papi's ability to rise to the occasion in the clutch will be key. He has certainly done it before.

If Ortiz does maintain this pace, his final numbers will be his best since 2007 -- when he last led the Red Sox to a World Series title. That seems a very tall task for this year's club, but Big Papi figures to have a big say in Boston's chances.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

What is the woeful stat haunting this year's Red Sox?

Jon Lester pitched well, but it wasn't enough.

If the Red Sox expect to be in the running for a playoff spot in the second half of the season, there is one area they certainly need to improve in: their record in low-scoring games.

After last night’s heartbreaking 3-2 setback at Oakland, the Sox are just 4-29 in games in which they have scored three or fewer runs. This translates out to a .121 winning percentage, one of the worst such marks in the majors. It also points to a key deficiency on the year's team—top-notch starting pitching.

Unlike past years—when the Red Sox always had at least one clear ace who could match up against top opposing starters—the inconsistency on this year's Boston staff has made for many frustrating nights. Even when a pitcher has a strong start, like Jon Lester Tuesday, he seldom makes it through seven innings due to high pitch counts and a quick hook from Bobby Valentine.

Adding to the angst is that the Sox still have one of baseball's best offensive clubs overall, ranking third in the AL in average (.268), slugging (.444) and OPS (.772) through Monday. They have won their share of 9-4 and 15-5 games, but have struggled along at around .500 all year because of their low-scoring losses.

June offers a perfect microcosm of the problem. While the Red Sox had a decent 15-12 record overall for the month, they were 1-9 when scoring three or less runs—including 1-0 and 3-2 losses to the lowly Mariners last week. 

Strasburg and the Nationals had the Sox' number.

 During a 1-5 homestand against Baltimore and Washington earlier in June, Boston lost games of 2-1, 4-2 and 4-3. They were swept by the Nationals—who got excellent starting performances from their terrific trio of Stephen Strasburg, Gio Gonzalez and Jordan Zimmerman. The Red Sox got decent pitching as well during that series, but it wasn't quite good enough.

Boston fans have been spoiled for most of the past 25 years. Even when the Red Sox didn't make the playoffs, they had a dominating pitcher who could win the 2-1 and 4-2 games. First it was Roger Clemens, then Pedro Martinez, and then Curt Schilling. To a slightly lesser degree, Josh Beckett and Jon Lester have fit this bill the last couple of seasons, but this has been an ace-less year.

Beckett (4-7), Lester (5-5) and the demoted Daniel Bard (5-6) have all been disappointments; and while Clay Buchholz (8-2) and Felix Doubront (8-4) both have winning records, their ERAs of 5.53 and 4.42 make it clear they have been the beneficiary of very strong run support.

Although closer Alfredo Aceves blew Tuesday's game, for the most part Boston's surprisingly efficient relief corps have kept them from falling even further into mediocrity. There is not much these guys can do, however, if they usually get the ball with the Sox already behind.

Pedro is gone, but the Sox need an ace.

After the end of this woeful West Coast string, Boston has four big games with the AL East-leading Yankees heading into the all-star break. Somebody on the starting staff needs to step up against New York and in the weeks that follow if the Red Sox want to be playing come October.

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Reflections on Youk

Youk never hid his emotion.

Even with the Red Sox playing better and making their long-awaited push toward the top of the AL East, my next trip to Fenway for the upcoming Yankees series will feel somewhat empty. No matter how well the team does the rest of the summer, there will be a big void in my lungs and my heart.

That's what no more YOOOOOOUK will do to a guy.

I knew it was coming, of course, but hearing about the trade that sent Kevin Youkilis to the White Sox last Sunday afternoon still left me shocked. I had just returned from New York City, of all places, and had given up my tickets for that day's home game against the Braves. Hearing details about the contest, in which Youkilis hustled his way to an infield single, an RBI triple, and sparkled afield, I ached to have missed it. It was the quintessential Youk game, complete with a dirty uniform at the end.

I was happy that word about his pending trade had already broken beforehand, so that fans could acknowledge his last game for Boston with several standing ovations. Mine came from afar, and it was far from my first.

Even when it wasn't pretty, Youk produced.

Everything Youkilis did on the field was indicative of his passion for the game. The clutch hits and terrific defense at third and first base through the years were his most important attributes, but his habit of running out every ground ball and playing hurt as often as possible further endured him to fans.

Dirty uniforms were a Youk calling card, along with post-strikeout scowls. J.D. Drew probably cared a lot if he grounded out with the bases loaded or hit a grand slam, but you never knew it. In Youk's case, you knew.

As a dad of two young kids, I wasn't a huge fan of Youkilis’ habit of throwing helmets in the dugout after poor at-bats, but I loved using his hustle and heads-up play as an example for Jason and Rachel. “Watch Youk, he plays the game right,” I’d tell them, and invariably he would do something to back this up.

His off-the-field activities were also befitting a true hero. Rather than just lending his name to causes, he started up “Kevin Youkilis Hits for Kids” to partner with children’s charities and organizations focused on pediatric cancer research, therapeutic horseback riding, and more ( Teaming up with our family’s favorite bookstore, the New England Mobile Book Fair, he championed "Youk's Kids Reading Group” to further the importance of literacy among young people.

Youk helped bring two titles to Boston.

He was even a perfect anecdote for anti-Semitism. As a kid and an adult, I've grown accustomed to defending the athletic legacy of fellow Jews in response to obnoxious quips about a supposed deficiency in this area. Youk was one of several Jewish players to emerge on the Red Sox in recent years – and one of the grittiest, most popular players on the club to boot. In my eyes, every "YOOOOOOUK!" that rattled through Fenway and other ballparks was a slam against stereotypes (even if the fans doing the yelling knew nothing of his religion).

The chant held special meaning to me for another reason too. It was infectious and fun, of course, it also brought me back to my childhood. One of my favorite players as a kid was Dwight Evans, who fans had saluted for great feats afield or at-bat with yells of “DEWWWWWWWEY!" If I closed my eyes after a Youkilis homer, I could easily imagine myself back in 1981 when $8 was all I needed to get into Fenway.

Watching those last few disgruntled weeks, when the emergence of rookie Will Middlebrooks at third made Youk's departure a foregone conclusion, was difficult. Youkilis had returned from his latest DL stint without his quick and selective bat, and it was hard to watch him arguing with umpires and glaring his way through games.
If it was near him, Youk caught it.

The trade was the best thing for him, and I find myself checking the box scores every night to watch his progress.
And when the White Sox come to Fenway in a couple weeks, you better believe my kids and I will be yelling for “YOOOOUK!" whether there in person or watching at home. The challenge will come if he does something to hurt the home team, but I imagine even then I’ll give him his due.

He’s certainly earned it.