DENVER - They had wondered all season about J.D. Drew. They had cited his rich contract and quiet nature as character flaws. They had cited the fact that he rarely appeared bothered by the days and weeks of a slump. By the boos and the insults.
And then, faced with the bases loaded and two outs in the first inning of a must-win Game 6 of the American League Championship Series, he ended it all.
"I know the way people see J.D., where he's very stoic and passionless, he doesn't really show a lot of emotion," said Red Sox hitting coach Dave Magadan. "J.D.'s got a lot of emotion. He's got a lot of passion. He doesn't wear it on his sleeve like a lot of guys, but he cares about what he's doing out there. He doesn't let too many people see the emotion.
"I saw the look on his face when he went down into the tunnel after he hit that grand slam; he was shaking. He was so excited. It was like a piano was off his back. It made the whole season worthwhile for me, just seeing that."
A season like the one Drew has had in his first year in Boston would not be easy for anyone to endure. He might hide it, but arriving in a new city and hitting .270 with 11 home runs (boosted, actually, by a late-season surge) is bound to engender some hard feelings from the fans.
Feelings that, despite their recent support, will not likely be erased quickly.
"I thought he handled things pretty good," Mike Lowell said. "The first thing is, fans can get on you, but I don't think J.D. was very happy with the year he was having. He knows he's better than that. You never saw him hand in the towel and not care about his at-bats. He played great defense all year and he kept plugging and trying to get his hits. I don't really look at it like Boston got to him. His personality has been the same all the time when I played against him."
Helpful for Drew. But hard to translate for the fans. Hard to accept, especially for those used to a diet of Lowell and Kevin Youkilis, Trot Nixon and David Ortiz.
Yet of late, things have turned for Drew. Because of something he noticed about his stance about six weeks ago, Drew turned in a much more Drew-like September. Over the final three weeks of the regular season, he hit .393 with a .500 on-base percentage and a 1.221 OPS (on-base plus slugging).
And that was only a prelude to his October.
"He was getting too close to the plate," Magadan said. "He backed off the plate a little bit. That's when he started putting better swings on balls, using the opposite field. That was something I really tried to hammer home with him. Because when he was really struggling, he was just using one half of the field and he's certainly got enough power, enough pop in his bat to drive the ball off that wall or at least drive it into the gap and hit the ball out. So I think when he embraced that, it kind of opened up some things for him, stayed on the offspeed [pitches] a little better. Pitchers didn't just use half the plate to pitch to him. They had to start kind of moving the ball in and out."
Though he started slowly in the postseason, just 2 for 11 in the Division Series against the Angels, in the ALCS and World Series Drew is 13 for 32 (.406) with eight RBIs and six runs. He has been getting cheered - consistently - since that grand slam. Since Red Sox fans, for the moment, began to enjoy the J.D. Drew era.
"I like to believe that with J.D., it was a matter of time," Magadan said. "Way too talented. I know he was very frustrated with the numbers he put up this year. He showed flashes of it, obviously, during the season. But I think, like anything else, it was a learning experience for him. I think it got to the point where the postseason started, the numbers were back to zero, he felt pretty good about his swing the last two, three weeks, and he took some confidence into the postseason.
"When the numbers get back to zero, it's like 'I've got a new start. In the fans' minds, I can make amends for whatever frustration they had with me during the season.' And he's done that. He's done everything and more."
Amalie Benjamin can be reached at email@example.com.