August 2007

Red Sox ready for September

Youkpapi

Last year, my first full season, we fell behind and kind of knocked ourselves out of the playoff race. So being in a playoff race heading into September is kind of new for me. We have the best record in baseball, so I think the key is to go out each day, play our game and do our best not to put too much pressure on ourselves.

We have a lead in our division, even after losing the series in New York, so our fate is in our own hands. That?s exciting. We don?t have to concern ourselves with what another club is doing or root for another club to help us out. If we do things right, we don?t need any of that.  Ideally, we?ll be able to increase our lead a little and give a few guys some time off. Maybe some guys who are really aching can sit down and take a break before the postseason.

Looking at our season to this point, everyone in our clubhouse has contributed. More than that really because it?s bigger than just the 25 guys on the roster at any given time. Guys have done a great job coming in to fill roles when necessary, too.

It?s a team effort and no one guy is ever going to carry a team by himself, even the biggest of superstars can?t do that. Each role is important. That?s why depth and a strong farm system are hallmarks of great teams. Guys are going to have ups and downs throughout the season and there are going to be injuries. It?s up to everyone on the club has to step in and pick up another guy once in a while.

Mike Lowell and Dustin Pedroia have had really strong seasons for us this year. Across the room, Papi?s home run numbers may be down because he?s been banged up but if you look at the rest of his numbers, he?s had a great year. Any one of us in here would take his numbers any day of the week, but people sometimes expect more from him because he?s a superstar and he?s accomplished so much.

I?ve gone through a tough stretch recently. It?s frustrating when it seems like you?re not putting the ball in play then, when you do finally square up, you hit a line drive at someone. It happens in all the time in baseball, though. You just have to keep playing the best way you know how and have confidence you?ll come out of it  all right on the other end. You can?t worry about your statistics.

Sure my average has gone down in the second half but I take some comfort in all of the players who?ve come up and offered encouragement, just basically saying, ??Don?t worry about it, you?re still having a good year.??  I thought about it and they were right. I looked at Derek Jeter?s numbers yesterday. He?s a great player and he?s batting .320 or with nine home runs and 59 RBIs. I said to myself, ??You know, he might be hitting .320 but I still have more home runs and more RBIs. You?re still having a good year and it?s not over yet.??

But I?d be lying if I told you that it?s easy to watch your batting average drop like mine did, considering it was pretty high at one point. My job is to help this team win and I want to do that job consistently as possible. I am very hard on myself. I?ve always carried a chip on my shoulder. This game is so competitive I?ve never been in position to feel real security. But, really, I think I?ve actually learned something from this experience and I?m a better player now.

You have to stop listening to all of the people on the outside who think they know what you?re doing or what you should be doing. I needed to block that stuff out and do my job. I know I’m one of the nine guys out here every night and I have a job to do and prepare for every night. There’s no time to look back on last night’s game or even your previous at-bat.

Going back to Tampa Bay, I was hitting the ball hard and driving the ball well. But balls were just getting caught before I got to Chicago. So I knew I was doing the right things. It’s a good sign for me is when I’m having long at-bats, getting in hitters? counts and not chasing pitches. I also know I?m doing the right things at the plate if I’m hitting the ball hard, getting walks and hitting to all fields. When I’m rolling over pitches and hitting everything to the left side, that?s a bad sign.

Now I just want to finish strong, win games and get in the playoffs. By September, everyone is a little worn down, battling some soreness or tightness somewhere in his body. But you put that out of your mind for nine innings every night and do everything in your power to try to win a ballgame. Hopefully, like I said, we can get enough of a lead to give a few guys a breather.

Fenway

Our fans give us a lot of energy, though. Even the road games feel like home games with our fanbase. Nobody’s surprised anymore when we get a big crowd of Red Sox fans on the road. Nobody’s saying, "Oh my God do you see how many fans we have!" I don’t want to say we expect it, but it happens more often than not and it’s kind of nice to get that kind of support in August when you’re on the road.

Big relief

Manny

It was nice to finally get a couple of wins in Seattle. The losing streak there was an aberration but it?s one of those things that builds on itself. It?s not very significant in the longterm but it?s something everyone focuses on for a couple days. Much better to put it to rest.

The win on Saturday was huge, then to win again Sunday and take the series was even bigger. Plus, our bats seemed to come alive. It was good to break the streak and win the series.

This is our final West Coast trip of the regular season. It seems early but that?s the way it works out on the schedule. We spent a lot of time out here in June, including some Interleague play. Now we won?t have any of those three-hour time zone changes for a while, which is always welcome.

After this series, I think Chicago is the furthest West we?ll be until postseason. It?s a fun city that I look forward to visiting every year, anyway. A lot of us love to go there. Personally, I have a lot of family and friends I like to meet when we got to Chicago. Most of my friends, for whatever reason, have ended up in Chicago.

One drawback about this particular West Coast trip is that we don?t get to Oakland, where I could have stopped at my brother?s restaurant ? Maverick. It?s a small place on 17th Street in the Mission District of San Francisco. Scott is a serious chef. He trained at Johnson & Wales University, which is a pretty renowned culinary institute in Providence, RI.

Maverick has been getting great reviews, too. I think one of the magazines out, maybe San Francisco Magazine, recently rated them as having the best brunch in San Francisco. He?s doing a great job out there and now I think he?s in a position where he needs to add seating space.

We don?t want it to get too big. We?d like to get the seating up to about 80 people. If it gets too big, then it loses a little bit of its appeal. It?s a nice little place where people who like nice restaurants go to have a well-cooked meal and a glass of wine in a friendly environment. People scout out places like Maverick.

When I go, he opens up for lunch, which he doesn?t normally do. He?ll cook some barbeque and his famous fried chicken for me. The crab cakes and the fried green tomatoes are pretty popular, too. Maverick primarily serves updated American classics. Everything?s got a new twist.

Gagne
Getting back to baseball, picking up Eric Gagne at the trade deadline is the big news around our clubhouse the last few days. Having a guy like that is a nice addition for an already outstanding bullpen. He?s one of the game?s great relief pitchers and when you consider we already have guys like Jon Papelbon and Hideki Okajima, it will take a little more burden away from the starting staff.

None of our starters are going to be in a situation where they have to pitch seven or eight innings. Our guys are strong enough to pitch that seventh or eighth inning, but why add that strain and let the pitch counts go up if you don?t have to? The decision-making gets a little easier with that level of depth, too.

There?s something to be said for being strong and well rested in the final two months of the season. Our objective isn?t to just get to the playoffs; we want to be in position to advance in the playoffs. My first two seasons with the Red Sox we made it to the playoffs and my first year we won the World Series, so last year was kind of disappointing for us. We?re a team that?s build to win a World Series every year and to not even reach the postseason was difficult for all of us. We have an opportunity to correct things this year.

Garnett
It?s been an exciting week or so and I haven?t even mentioned Kevin Garnett coming to the Celtics. The city was buzzing before we left for Seattle. The Red Sox are No. 1 but this is a huge sports town and the Boston Celtics are an icon franchise, too. People love their sports teams in Boston year-round, whether it?s the Sox, the Celtics, the Patriots or the Bruins.

It?s fun for us players to see the Celtics putting together such an exciting team, too. When we go into Boston for off-season dinners and charity events, we can?t wait to go see them play. I?ll be very interested to see how Ray Allen, Paul Pierce and Garnett play together on a regular basis.

Posted by MLB.com during the game on Youk’s behalf…

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