The "Greek God of Walks" can do more than just watch pitches go by.
Here is what rookie third baseman Kevin Youkilis accomplished yesterday at Fenway Park during that roller-coastery 9-7 12-inning triumph over the Seattle Mariners: He doubled to left-center and scored in the first. He was hit by a pitch and scored in the third. He singled to left and scored in the seventh. He just about killed Everyday Eddie Guardado with a shot through the box for an infield hit in the eighth.
It gets better. For that third-inning run, he had to huff and puff his way around from first to score on a Manny Ramirez double to right-center that came within a few inches of being a ground-rule double as it one-hopped off the fence in front of the Red Sox bullpen. In the seventh, he scored from second on a weird combo wild pitch/error on Julio Mateo. Throw in an inning-ending adventure of a catch of a Randy Winn pop foul in the ninth (he overran the ball and had to make a half-sitting snatch), and a good play on a Winn bunt attempt in the 12th, and it was a full day of major league baseball for the lad from Cincinnati. Major League Baseball.Those are the key words. He now has played exactly 12 games of major league baseball. Until further notice he is the starting third baseman on a team that has been constructed with a world's championship in mind. Of course, he wasn't supposed to be a part of it. He was supposed to be in Pawtucket. But Bill Mueller went down, and here he is, looking more and more as if he really belongs here. "Actually, it does seem as if I've been here a while," he said. "That's because these guys have accepted me. But I am in the major leagues, and I've got to do my job the way I've always tried to do it, whether it's in Triple A or the big leagues."
Truth be told, Youkilis was misrepresented. He is not what we were led to believe. He's better.
Walks, walks, walks. That's all we heard. It was those walks that propelled him to those record-setting 72 consecutive games reaching base last season in Portland and Pawtucket. And it was those bases on balls that earned him that "Greek God of Walks" tag from the Billy Beane gang in Oakland. He has eight walks, which isn't bad. So, yes, he will take a pitch.
But the big thing thus far are his swings, not his takes. He hit the ball hard three times yesterday. Among his 13 hits are four doubles and a homer. When Youkilis isn't watching a pitch go by, he's putting a hurtin' on the baseball.
"There is a big difference in him between this year and last year," said teammate Cesar Crespo, who also played with Youkilis in Pawtucket in the 2003 season. "He is much more aggressive. He knows he's going to get good pitches up here, and he's not taking the way he used to. He's able to wait for mistakes and then capitalize on them. And he hits fastballs, curveballs, and changeups."
"He's got a very good plan," said Kevin Millar. "He gives you a good at-bat every time up there. The key is he just knows the strike zone. If it's a strike, he puts a good swing on it. If it isn't, he takes it."
Sounds pretty simple.
In less than two weeks, he has become something of a crowd favorite. They chant "Youk, Youk, Youk" when he steps into the batter's box, and it doesn't stop there. He even hears it outside the ballpark. "My friends come here and say, `You're a superstar,' " he said with a laugh.
Imagine what it must be like to be this kid right now. One day you're schlepping around in Triple A, wondering just how you fit into this organization. And the next day . . .
"I'm staying in the best hotel I've ever stayed in and my paycheck has quadrupled," he said.
Don't forget the playing every day part.
"My mind-set is that I come in every day and see if I'm in the lineup," he said. "If I'm not, I know I've got to do what I need to do to stay ready. But the thing I'm trying to do is stick with what worked to get me here, and that's to keep working. You know what they say: If you're not getting better every day, then you're getting worse."
It was a big day yesterday for the recent PawSox alumni, and it all took place on the day the Red Sox honored legendary Pawtucket owner Ben Mondor. Youkilis did what he did. Andy Dominique tied the game in the eighth with a pinch single for his first big league hit, and Anastacio Martinez was the winning pitcher. "It's fun to see the guys you played with down there do well," Youkilis mused, "especially today. Ben Mondor is the key to the Red Sox organization. You don't want to be down there, but he is so nice. He never says no to anything."
Right now Youkilis is giving the Red Sox what they desperately need. The third base transition from Mueller, a player's player, and Youkilis, a raw rook, has been pretty close to seamless. His own transition has been equally seamless. "Coming to the park, hanging out, eating with the guys, it's all been the same as I was doing in Pawtucket," he said. "But now it's the big leagues."
Kevin Youkilis is producing. Why shouldn't they accept him? "These guys are here to win a World Series," he said, "and they'll embrace anyone who can help them win."
I think this young man gets it.
Bob Ryan is a Globe columnist. His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.