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Drew takes a turn at the top

Struggling slugger hitless in 5 at-bats

Dustin Pedroia isn't pleased after being rung up by umpire James Hoye in the second inning. Dustin Pedroia isn't pleased after being rung up by umpire James Hoye in the second inning. (JIM DAVIS/GLOBE STAFF)

The Red Sox used their fourth different leadoff batter in the last four games last night as manager Terry Francona unveiled a lineup that had J.D. Drew at the top of the order, and suggested that variety may be the norm for a while.

Drew came in hitless in six at-bats in the first two games of the homestand, but contended he'd seen some nasty pitches from the Rockies. He had not started in the leadoff spot since June 18, 2003, when he went 0 for 5 with a walk for the Cardinals in his first start at the top of the order since September 2000, when Tony La Russa used him in 10 successive games in the No. 1 hole. Drew hit safely in eight of those 10 games, batting .308 (12 for 39) with five walks.

"Facing a lefty [Jeff Francis] today, J.D. has had some good at-bats against this guy," Francona said before Drew went 0 for 5, stranding seven base runners. "Besides the game in Arizona, he hasn't been driving the ball a lot, but he'll give you a good at-bat. I just think we hit him first, hit [Dustin] Pedroia second, that gives us good on-base guys, and it puts [Kevin] Youkilis in a spot if they want to pitch around David [Ortiz] or Manny [Ramírez], they may get stung a little bit.

"I don't know if we're able, especially with interleague play, to have one lineup for the next two months. I just don't know if it's feasible. Obviously, we'd like to have consistency. This is something you may see from time to time at least. We'll see."

If the Sox' lineup was operating the way it had been drawn up in spring training, Francona wouldn't be forced to shuffle. But with Julio Lugo playing himself out of the leadoff spot, Francona is looking to create more production out of a spot in the lineup in which the Sox came into the game ranked last in the American League in batting average (.212), runs (31), and on-base percentage (.267, 35 percentage points behind the next-to-last team, the White Sox).

The Sox have scored two or fewer runs in seven of their last nine games, batting .232 (69 for 298) with 23 runs. They are 4-14 in games in which they've scored fewer than three runs, though two of those wins had come in the last week, Curt Schilling's 1-0 complete game last Thursday in Oakland, and Tim Wakefield's 2-1 win over the Rockies Tuesday night.

Drew said Francona spoke with him about the lineup shuffle after Wednesday's game.

"I told him I was fine with it," Drew said. "It was one of those situations where they're mixing things up a little bit. He just wanted to check with me and make sure I had no opposition.

"He basically told me it wouldn't be an everyday thing. He said he wanted to throw it out there, see if I was willing to do it, and see what happens with it. He thought it would be a good idea.

"I have a lot of at-bats where I see a lot of pitches. He just wanted me to stick with my game plan in a different spot in the lineup."

Sox leadoff men the last four games have been Lugo, Pedroia, Coco Crisp, and Drew.

Safe bet
A special Fenway moment is assured tonight when Dave Roberts makes his first playing appearance here since the stolen base heard 'round the world in the 2004 American League Championship Series. With the Sox one out away from being swept by the Yankees, Roberts entered the game as a pinch runner and stole second against Mariano Rivera, then scored the tying run on a hit by Bill Mueller. The Sox went on to win in extra innings and beat the Bombers in seven games.

"Thank God he was safe," Francona said. "Every time I see that on video, he looks like he's going to be out. And it's like, there's still a possibility. 'Run, Dave, come on.' He handled that role so professionally. He wanted to play. He deserved to. He's a regular player. He never said two words. You always say to players, 'Stay ready.' You know what? He did.

"What he did in that situation, it's going to go down in history in Boston and New England, as it should. In my career, it's the single most exciting play I've ever been around.

"I would be shocked if, when Davey comes up, the place doesn't explode. Then I hope he pops up and sits back down."

Plenty of candidates
Youkilis will indeed appear on the players' ballot for the American League All-Star team, but it's not due to the largesse of Ortiz, or any special courtesy extended to the Sox by Major League Baseball officials. Sox public relations man John Blake said he was informed that both Youkilis and Ortiz will be on the ballot, just as Paul Konerko and Jim Thome of the White Sox will be listed. The same rules don't apply to the fans' ballot, which lists only one player per position per team . . . Ortiz was hit in the left thigh by a pitch from Francis in the first inning, only the second time this season Ortiz has been hit by a pitch. He was hit Opening Day in Kansas City by Gil Meche . . . Ramírez nearly reprised his famous cutoff play, leaping but missing Crisp's throw on Matt Holliday's double in the third inning. It was reminiscent of the play in which Ramírez dived to intercept Johnny Damon's throw two years ago. There was a difference, though: Crisp actually was trying to throw it to Ramírez, though he didn't realize who it was until he'd let go of the ball. "I just thought one of the cutoff men had come out far," he said. "I didn't know it was Manny." Crisp had made a sliding stop of Holliday's drive before it rolled to the wall. "I was going to come up, set my feet, and throw," Crisp said. "I was coming up, I just saw him so close, I thought, 'Get it to him quick.' I didn't know it was Manny. I was like, 'Uh-oh.' " Crisp said he has seen video of the Damon play. "I don't think we're going to try that anymore," said Crisp. "I don't know about that play. It throws you off a little bit." . . . Hideki Okajima laughed before Jeff Yamaguchi translated the following question: Who would Okajima rather face, James Bond or Barry Bonds? "James Bond, 007?" he said, smiling. "I'd rather face James Bond." Okajima said that of course he knows of Bonds, who in the past has toured Japan with a team of major league stars. "I just don't want to give up a home run to him," said Okajima . . . Umpire Bruce Froemming, 68, who worked second base last night in the 5,079 of his career, announced he'll retire at the end of the season, his 50th in the game.