With just eight at-bats in the last six weeks - four in the regular season, four in the postseason - prior to Game 2 of the Division Series against the Angels, J.D. Drew may have been the most unlikely candidate to hit a game-winning home run in the ninth inning.
"J.D. catches a little bit of flak during the season, but it always seems like he comes up pretty big in a special moment in the postseason," Mike Lowell said. "That grand slam off [Francisco] Carmona [in the ALCS] last year and the big home run [Friday] night, he's gotten some really big hits for us.
"So I think he deserves a lot of credit for that, especially [since] he really hasn't seen live pitching in a while. It looked like he was back to being his regular self."
After going 0 for 4 with a strikeout in Game 1, Drew went 3 for 5 with three RBIs, a home run and a double in Game 2. Still, he's not sure he's back to where he wants to be.
"It's hard to say," said Drew, who has been bothered by a disk problem. "It takes a number of at-bats to get where you're completely comfortable. So, we'll still grind them out regardless, try to put good swings on balls. But some days you feel better than others, for sure.
"I get stiff and play through the stiffness and able to perform. I mean, I'm not at the stabbing pain that I was having a week or so ago. So that's always nice. But, you know, I play six or seven innings, it starts stiffening up. [But] it's able to be played through and keep trotting out there."
Drew, who said his back has improved greatly over the last week to 10 days, doesn't feel his timing at the plate is where he'd like it to be.
"That's the big question of missing six weeks and trying to figure out how you're going to come back and be able to perform at this level with minimal at-bats over that period of time," he said. "So, see the ball and hit it.
"Adrenaline, that's a huge thing. I wouldn't have been able to overcome what I was dealing with a week ago, a week and a half ago. So, needless to say, things started healing up and it all fell into place at the right time. But I got to be really careful and make sure I do things right to not reaggravate at this point in the season."
Which is why manager Terry Francona isn't sure he'll have Drew's name in the lineup for Sunday night's Game 3, with lefthander Joe Saunders starting for the Angels.
"I think that's the one question," Francona said. "J.D. just walked in when I was coming up here. If there's any doubt about him playing a back-to-back day, that's what we would do. So we'll get to that in a little while. He's down there talking to trainers right now. I'll visit with him in a little while."
If Drew does not start, the switch-hitting Coco Crisp will play center field, with Jacoby Ellsbury moving to right.
As for his own status, Lowell said, "I'm fine and I'm expecting to play, nothing weird."
Lowell said the long plane ride back from California did not have an adverse effect on the right hip problem that kept him out of the lineup in Game 2, but neither did the day off help.
"I feel good," he said. "So, looking forward to [Sunday]. It's going to be a pretty good atmosphere here at Fenway. It's going to be exciting."
Better and better
Asked to assess Kevin Youkilis's evolution as a player since 2004, Francona replied, "I'd love to. The first time I saw Youk was in '04 spring training. I believe that was his first year on the roster. We got him up and we played a night game up in Sarasota against Cincinnati, and he pulled a ball in the gap. I remember thinking, 'OK, we'll send him down on that note,' because he was a young kid learning how to be - he's a very professional hitter, coming through the minor leagues. But looked like to me he was having a little trouble catching up with a good fastball, getting a little in between on the breaking ball. He pulled that ball, and I remember thinking, 'This would be a great time to send him down.' Went to Triple A, came back that year, and you could already see him developing and learning and getting stronger, understanding, and every year it's gotten better. It's gotten to the point now where he's a force and one of the better - he's one of the better players, but he's also one of the better hitters in the American League."
Hunter vows to play
His left knee wrapped in ice after Friday night's game, Torii Hunter left little doubt he would be ready to go for Game 3.
"I'm a gamer, man," Hunter said. "I go out there and play no matter what. Like I said, the adrenaline is my pain-killer and that's all I need."
Hunter injured his knee protesting a call by first base umpire Kerwin Danley on a bang-bang play that ended the third inning. Shortstop Alex Cora threw to first to retire Hunter and strand two runners, and after Hunter crossed the bag, he leaped and turned to yell at Dantley. He landed awkwardly, and his right knee buckled.
Hunter crumpled to the ground and remained there until the team trainer arrived on the scene to examine him.
"I just felt it buckle," said Hunter, who did not come out of the game, though he walked stiffly to his position in center. "There was no snap, no pop, or anything like that. The doctor checked it out. I feel pretty good. It's a little sore, it's swollen right now, but trust me, I'm going to go out there and get the job done."
What seemed to pain Hunter most was the fact that the out extinguished a two-out rally.
"It's a bang-bang play and I felt like it was close," Hunter said. "It's just deflating that you kill a rally, kill an inning like that. Tie goes to the runner. That's the way I felt on the field."
While the Angels' 3 through 5 hitters have combined to go 6 for 11 through two games, the bottom third of the order hasn't been nearly as productive. The 7 through 9 hitters have just two hits (by pinch hitter Kendry Morales in Game 1 and reserve catcher Jeff Mathis in Game 2), going a combined 2 for 24 with 1 walk and 11 strikeouts. More troublesome is the Angels' penchant for stranding baserunners - 20 in two games (9 in Game 1; 11 in Game 2).
Make a new plan
Angels second baseman Howie Kendrick went 0 for 5 Friday night with four strikeouts. He struck out with the bases loaded in the seventh, and flied out to center field with two aboard in the fifth, stranding five runners by himself. "I just have to figure out what they're doing to me and get back on top and pay attention to the at-bats," Kendrick said. "I definitely need to learn from what I did and try to be a little more patient. When they change their game plan, you have to change yours. They have the advance scouts out in the stands and they're seeing what you're chasing and they're going to keep throwing you that same thing until you figure out, 'Hey, I'm going to have to lay off of it.' It's up to me to make the adjustment right now and once I make that adjustment, I'm sure they'll make another one, so we just have to keep bouncing back. It's like a cat-and-mouse game."