Something Ill never forget

4lm9kkcsTo hit a home run in my first at-bat of my first playoff start was definitely a huge adrenaline rush. I was worried it was going to hit off the wall, so I started sprinting around first base and then I saw it go out. For me, it was just an unbelievable feeling. It’s something I’ll always remember for the rest of my life. For my first hit in the playoffs to be a home run is an unbelievable thing.

Just to get ahead in the ballgame was the biggest thing, knowing that we got a run for Josh Beckett. Lo and behold, it wound up being enough to win the game, although we did end up winning, 4-0.

To be honest, the day leading up to the game felt like a normal day. I did everything like I normally do. I tried to take a nap for like 20 minutes or so at home. I was on the same schedule and I didn’t feel really that nervous.

Once the game started and all the craziness, I felt a little bit of nerves, but for the most part, I felt pretty calm. For me, it caught me off-guard. Usually, I get so amped up. I felt pretty calm and just played it like a normal game, and it’s probably just due to the postseasons I’ve watched for so many years, especially when I was on our bench in 2004 and 2005. I think that helped out a lot.

As far as the home run I hit, it was on a 2-1 fastball. I was just trying to put a good swing on it and not try to do too much, and that’s when you hit the ball the best sometimes, when you try no to do too much and just try to hit the ball solid. I got a good part of the wood on it and it traveled over the fence. It’s not easy hitting them out to left-center sometimes. It was just great — a great feeling overall.

It was a good way to start, but I told myself, "Hey, don’t try to do too much. Stay with your approach and get on top of the ball." Sometimes when you hit a home run in your first at-bat, you think you can hit a home run every time. So for me, I just need to stay on top of the ball, and my next at-bat, I got a curveball that was over the plate and I put a good swing on it and I got a double.

The big story tonight was Josh. It was unbelievable just to watch him out there. You never knew when we were going to take him out or if we wouldn’t. And we didn’t. It just shows you how great Josh is, and for me, it doesn’t surprise me any time he pitches like that.

Someone asked me, "Do you think he can throw a no-hitter?" I was like, "Yeah, there’s a good chance he might be able to."  It’s unbelievable how good he is. You just have to tip your cap to what a great game he pitched. We’re excited to have him. Hopefully we don’t have to see him again this series.

But we’re not going to get too high over this one win. For us, it’s just a matter of enjoying it, but also waking up tomorrow and saying, "Hey, we have work to do and we still have a bunch more games to play."

We have Game 2 Friday night; we have to be ready for that. That’s a big game for us. If we win that game, it sets us up for just having to win one out of three games. For us, coming out in Game 2 and trying not to look past that is the biggest thing for us.

We’ll be facing Kelvim Escobar. He’s a great pitcher — you just have to lay off some of his splitties and make him work. I think for us, the key is trying to make him work and get good pitches that are in our zone and take advantage of some mistakes. If he can make mistakes, that’s the key to getting to Escobar.

Dice-K Matsuzaka gets the ball for us. We have confidence in Dice-K and all of our pitchers every time they go out. For us, we’re just excited to have our pitchers go out there and pitch. If our pitchers pitch well, we’ll go a long way. We’ll throw any of our guys out there.

That’s all for tonight. Talk to you all again after Game 2.

Excitement for the playoffs!

I’ve been in the playoffs twice before — when we won the World Series in 2004 and when we lost in the first round the following season. But this is my first time as an everyday player and it’s exciting. It’s a lot of fun going into the playoffs as a starter, and knowing you’re one of the guys who will be relied on heavily.

It’s come full circle now. I got to sit back and watch it. Now it’s time to actually go out there and play. I’m truly excited to just go out there and play and have fun out there, and try to win Game 1 of the American League Division Series on Wednesday night.

To me, I think going through it and just watching it a couple of times will help me in the fact that I won’t be as nervous for my first playoff game. Now I just look at it as, I’m playing and it’s just another game. I think when you play every day, you just get used to the grind of playing every day and just going out there and playing.Fenway500

It’s going to be exciting. I think when game time hits, I’ll definitely be nervous. Every player out there, everyone is going to be nervous. But I get nervous before every game and I get excited to play. There’s always nerves kicking around. It should be fun — a lot of fun.

When I watched the playoffs the other years we were in it, you just learn that every pitch, every at-bat, every play in the field is a big deal. You have to go out there, and whatever has happened in the past, you have to let it go and move on. You can’t do anything about what happened before. You have to play for the moment. For me, I learned a lot about that. It’s all about winning and doing whatever you have to do to get the job done — moving runners over, driving runners in and making smart decisions on the field and on the basepaths.

The Angels are a great team. We can’t take anything lightly in the postseason. The playoffs is when you throw all the stuff out that has occurred in years past and this year, and it doesn’t matter anymore. Anyone can win any day. The fact is, you have to play for each game. You can’t look to the next game or the next pitcher. You have to focus on every pitch and every at-bat that you get.

They’ve got a lot of good pitching. They have good team speed. They play the game pretty well, they know how to run the bases well and they make you make errant throws. I think the biggest thing is trying to slow them down. We need to try to make the game kind of speed up on them a little bit. Not in the sense of running, but just try to speed it up in the fact that they can’t have those opportunities to run.Fenway275

The key to this series, as with any series, will be pitching. You win championships with pitching. You saw last year with Detroit: it pitched great through the playoffs, but then its pitchers made a lot of errors in the World Series. The Tigers didn’t field the ball well, and that’s what lost them the World Series. Pitching is the key. Your pitchers have to go out there and they have to throw well. Offensively, you have to score runs, but if your pitcher holds them down, that’s the key to winning.

As for me, I was able to get back out there the last week of the season after my wrist injury. I feel good. Once you get your adrenaline going, the pain kind of goes away. For me, I’m not going to think about anything. I’ll just hopefully be full of adrenaline and a lot of excitement.

Obviously, we like starting playoffs with Josh Beckett on the mound. We all feel that he’s deserving of the AL Cy Young Award this year. We’re confident. We feel he’s the best pitcher in baseball right now. He’s been in the postseason before — an MVP of the 2003 World Series for the Marlins — and so we’re excited to have him on the mound. Hopefully, he’ll go out and pitch a great game.

I’ll be back for another post after Game 1, and I’ll be blogging after each playoff game, so keep coming by!

Talk to you later,

Youk

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…

A great first half

Mariners300_1We definitely have a bad streak going in Seattle, so it was good to get out of there ?- for now. I?m glad we get to go back there in August to try and redeem ourselves, though.

Last year it was tough because we had a lot of injuries. I had the flu and missed two games. Manny was injured. We just didn?t have the whole team out there. This year, we were in some ball games but we just couldn?t finish them. That was the biggest thing. We just couldn?t seal the deal on a couple of them. But that?s just baseball. We move on. In this case, we got to come home from a long road trip and get back in front of our home crowd again.

All players like to win on a get-away day. We joke about that all the time. We always tell each other that we want a "happy flight." The long flight from Seattle wasn?t one of them, though. Getting swept leaves a bad taste in your mouth. But it was still good to get back to Boston.

We landed at about 3:30 a.m., so it was nice to have that off day so we could get everyone acclimated to being in Boston again. For me, an off day like that, after getting in so late, means sleeping as long as I can, then catching up on some of the stuff you can?t tend to while you?re on the road.

You don?t get very many days off in this job during the season, so you try to take advantage of them. I spend most off days just trying to enjoy some of the things that you can?t enjoy very much during the season.

My off day was relaxing, although I did have an autograph signing obligation in the evening, actually a makeup for a signing session that got rained out earlier in the season. It wasn?t that bad, though. I still had a nice day off.

***

Defense200I?d never really heard of Stuffy McInnis before this week. In fact, I didn?t even know I?d set a record until our PR director, John Blake, came up to me and told me the media wanted to talk about setting the record -? going 120 games without an error at first base. It was exciting to know I?d set the record, but it kind of took me by surprise.

It?s great, though. I take a lot of pride in my defense. You play for your teammates. I love the idea of helping out our pitching staff or picking up one of the guys across the diamond on a bad throw. As a third baseman most of my career, I know what it?s like to throw the ball in the dirt and I know how it feels to have a good first baseman make a good scoop and save an error.

As an infielder your confidence rises when you know you have someone at first base who can make a lot of plays. But I?m pretty fortunate, too, because we have a group of infielders who throw the ball very well.

I played first base my senior year in high school and I played over at first for about a month in high A ball at the beginning of my career, so it wasn?t completely new to me when I moved over to first. It wasn?t completely new to me but it wasn?t something I?d been doing on a daily basis, either.

I?ve had a lot of help becoming a first baseman in the Major Leagues, too. Last year, DeMarlo Hale, was our infield coordinator and he helped a lot. Terry Francona was a first baseman so he had a lot to offer. Brad Mills, our bench coach, has been great. Dave McCarty and J.T. Snow were always giving me pointers a couple years ago.

But really it?s a matter of getting a lot of repetitions. You need to take a lot of ground balls and get to the point where you have confidence and a good feel for the position. A lot of it for me was trying to transfer my third base skills across the diamond.

***

Drew350We?ve had a great first half.  We feel we could have done a little better here and there and we know we can definitely be better than we are right now but, on the other hand, we?re in a good position and have a nice lead in our division.

Now we need to keep building on our lead. There?s no such thing as enough cushion in the AL East with the quality of our opponents. We need to keep putting more ground between us and the second- and third-place teams in the second half. We don?t want them getting any closer.

***

As for the All-Star break, it will be nice to get a few days of rest. We?re playing it by ear at this point. We?ve talked about staying around the New England area and finding a beach resort or maybe going out to Vegas. I?ll let you know how it works out.

Fun weekend ahead

Soxfans500

Wow. I never realized I?d get such a huge response, especially on my first post. It sounds like most of you liked the name ?Yooooouuuuukkkkk? so it?s officially a keeper. Anyway, it?s great to get another reminder that Red Sox Nation is out there behind us in numbers. Not that it surprises me, though, because we probably have the most intense fans in the game. There?s something really special about the relationship between the fans and the Red Sox.

Ortiz200We?re in a stretch of Interleague Play right now. It?s nice to see some of the other teams and players and stadiums. But we?re not at full strength when we play at NL parks, so in that sense it?s a difficult situation for our club. We have three of our middle-of-the-order guys to fill two lineup spots when there?s no designated hitter, leaving someone out in each of those games.

When we were in Arizona, I sat a game, played third base for a game and played first base for a game. I thought Tito did a great job in making sure that each of us play two out of three games and each of us got a rest. As a younger player, I can?t ask for more. David and Mike Lowell are established veteran players. Those guys are owed the opportunity to play if they want to play, so I?m just glad to get in the games.

We have another six games at Atlanta and San Diego coming up so I?d expect we?ll do similar juggling of the lineup. Part of the equation has to be whether we?re facing a left-hander in a particular series. If we are, that?s the obvious day for David to get a rest. If we?re facing three right-handers, that makes the puzzle a little more difficult. Our club usually finds a way to put a pretty good lineup out there, so I?m not too concerned about it.

Bonds200jpgThis weekend the Giants are visiting us. I?m sure there will be a bigger-than-usual media turnout with Barry Bonds coming to town, but we always have a big media contingent, so adding a few more won?t make a difference. It?s just another day at the ballpark for us. We played against the Giants and Barry a couple years ago, in my first season. It was a lot of fun playing against someone of that caliber. It should be even more fun this year as he?s counting down toward becoming the home run king.

One thing for certain is that Barry will be hearing from the fans at Fenway Park, just like all of the opposing superstars who come to town. At Fenway Park, it?s about the Red Sox winning and the fans know which guys have the best chance of getting in the way of us winning a game. It?s going to be loud and exciting.

In baseball it?s a compliment to get booed by the opposing fans. As a player you take it as a badge of honor to be told "you stink" by the other club?s fans. My first year or so nobody told me I stink, but this year I?m beginning to hear it more and I take that as a compliment. When you?re doing well or part of a club that?s doing well, you tend to get heckled more.

I?ve also got family and friends in town for the homestand this weekend to help celebrate Father?s Day, so this is shaping up as a fun weekend all the way around. My mom and dad (Mike and Carolyn), some cousins and friends from college are all here in Boston. I?m fortunate to be able to stay close to the most important people in my life.

It can get a little hectic with a big group here but they?re really considerate about giving me the space and time I need to prepare for the games. My parents have always been there for me. They travel a lot to come see me, like Mother?s Day and Father?s Day. Everybody who meets them tells me they?re the greatest, but I already know that.

They?re not staying with my girlfriend Enza and me this time. We only have one extra bedroom in our townhouse. So since my cousins and everyone are in town, too, they?re all at the hotel so they can hang out together when I?m not around.

Until next time?.

Blog along with me >

This blog is off and running

Inside_the_park_homer

Maybe we can finally put all of this ?Kevin Youkilis can?t run? stuff to rest now.

Ever since I was drafted I?ve been labeled as someone who can?t run well and I?ve been determined to prove that I can get around the bases. Now, after hitting my first inside-the-park home run last night, maybe the doubters out there will have second thoughts.

I knew I?d hit the ball well and I knew the wind was blowing out toward right field a little. Then I saw Grady Sizemore running after it and, knowing the way Grady Sizemore plays, I half expected he?d make a miraculous catch by diving for it or something.

Back_in_the_dugout
But as I was rounding first it kicked off that little triangle-cut wall in center field and I figured I better get moving. I thought if I could get going pretty good I might have a shot at an inside-the-park home run. I picked up DeMarlo Hale, our third base coach, and took off from there.

It was pure adrenaline — and a little bit of exhaustion — by the time I reached home plate. The score was just 3-1 at the time, so the run was important. It was my first inside-the-park home run ever, at least since I?ve been playing on fields with fences.

I?m not a fast starter. I?m not usually too quick the first 30 feet or so when I try to steal a base, for example. But once I get going, I?m OK the rest of the way. I?m usually pretty good going from first to third or first to home. Even in school I was always had better times in the 60-yard dash than the 40-yard dash. I just need to get a head of steam.

So it was great. It showed the doubters out there that I can run a little bit. Even the doubters on my own team.

Dustin Pedroia, pictured here below, thinks he?s faster than me but I think we put that to rest last night with the inside-the-park home run, too. He?s just not as fast as me.

On the road trip before this one there was a big debate on the club about who was faster -? Dustin or me. We had a lot of fun with it. It was all a big joke, really. Julio Lugo was in the middle of it in the dugout, saying, ?I?m picking Dustin. He?s definitely faster than you.?

Dustin_pedroiaBut last night after my home run, Julio seemed to change his mind. He told Pedroia, ?You?ve got no chance. Youkilis is definitely faster than you.?

It?s a good time to be a player on the Red Sox right now. Winning makes everything a lot more fun as a player. Everybody gets along great when you?re winning. There are a lot of positive things happening with our club at this point.

The joking around about who?s faster was great for guys like Dustin and myself who haven?t been around all that long. It pulls us in and helps bring everyone together as a team. It?s all good humor and we?re enjoying what we do.

As far as I?m concerned, I?ve already proven I?m faster than Dustin but, who knows, maybe we can have a race for charity sometime. It couldn?t be during the season ?- in case one of us ever tweaked a hamstring or something -? but maybe we could do it in the offseason. It would be fun.

Personally, I?ve enjoyed flying under the radar but I?ve been hitting well recently and  don?t know how much longer I can do that. Batting in front of David Ortiz and Manny Ramirez in the order, I get pitched to more often. Pitchers want to get me out, so I see more pitches. Knowing they don?t want to fall behind allows me to be a little more aggressive.

I always felt I could hit if I go out and play every day and gain that confidence. But I?m not playing this game to become a superstar or win awards. I just want to have fun, do the best I can each season and hopefully have a long career.

The only goal that matters is winning a championship.

Name this blog

I noticed that Geoff Jenkins was asking fans to help name his blog and I think that’s a pretty good idea. So Red Sox fans, let’s hear some of your thoughts about what we should call this blog and we’ll have some fun with it.

We_win

Posted by MLB.com during BP on Youk’s behalf…he had to run