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Utilityman proving useful

Aviles filling in nicely at third

Even as the Red Sox stumble in September, Mike Aviles has been one bright spot, taking advantage of his opportunity. Even as the Red Sox stumble in September, Mike Aviles has been one bright spot, taking advantage of his opportunity. (Yoon S. Byun/Globe Staff)
By Peter Abraham
Globe Staff / September 23, 2011

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NEW YORK - Mike Aviles grew up in Middletown, N.Y., about 90 minutes northwest of Yankee Stadium. During his four seasons with the Royals, his family and friends would show up for games in the Bronx wearing Kansas City gear in support.

“They’re all Yankees fans,’’ said Aviles. “But for me, they would root for the Royals. It was a fun thing.’’

Tonight, Aviles will play at the Stadium for the first time as a member of the Red Sox. But he’s not expecting his friends to cross the line and support a team they were raised to dislike.

“One of my friends said to me, ‘Mike, you look good in a Red Sox uniform. But I’ll never say that in public,’ ’’ said Aviles. “I don’t think they’re going to cheer so loud for me this time.’’

The Sox like how Aviles looks in their threads, too. The infielder is hitting .348 with an .849 OPS since being acquired from Kansas City July 30.

With Kevin Youkilis unable to play because of assorted injuries, Aviles has become the everyday third baseman. He is 10 for 26 with five extra-base hits and six RBIs in the last nine games. As the Red Sox collapse, Aviles has been one of the few bright spots.

“He has handled it really well,’’ manager Terry Francona said. “He can hit the ball out of the ballpark, bunt it. He’s a strong kid and if you throw it where he can reach it, he can hit it a long way. Hopefully getting some consistent at-bats will help him, too.’’

Aviles, 30, profiles as a utility player for a team like the Red Sox. He can play second, third, or shortstop, and is willing to work at playing left or right field. The Sox have started him twice in the outfield, with mixed results, but believe a full spring training will smooth that transition in 2012.

“Any time you get an opportunity to play, it’s a good thing,’’ said Aviles. “My position on this team right now is to help out any way I can. I just come ready to play every day, whether I’m going to play or not. I’m always ready.

“Everybody wants to play every day. But maybe I can play a lot if I can play a lot of positions.’’

Former Kansas City manager Trey Hillman thought the Sox were smart to trade for Aviles.

“For me, he did everything the way you want to see it done and he carried himself like a professional,’’ said Hillman, now the bench coach of the Dodgers. “I love the young man to death. He’s very driven.’’

Hillman was in his first year as manager in 2008 when Aviles was invited to big league camp. He was not a high-profile prospect, but impressed Hillman from the start.

“We had a lot of B games that spring to get a feel for the team and Mike would be on the back field playing his heart out in front of 10 people,’’ Hillman said. “He lit it up. That really caught my eye, how focused he was.’’

Aviles, who attended Division 2 Concordia College in New York, was looking for somebody to believe in him.

“Trey is the reason I’m here,’’ he said. “He gave me that chance.’’

Aviles hit .325 with 10 home runs and 51 RBIs as a rookie. A torn elbow ligament in 2009 led to Tommy John surgery and essentially a lost season. Aviles returned and hit .304 last year. But under Hillman’s replacement, Ned Yost, Aviles became a bench player this season.

“He’s going to wake up every day and try and prove people wrong,’’ Hillman said. “That’s how he is. He’s got a lot of toughness. I was sorry it didn’t work out with the Royals. But I think he gives [Francona] a whole new dimension and he will help them.’’

Even with the Red Sox struggling to earn a postseason berth, Aviles is enjoying the experience.

“In Kansas City, I was thinking about packing up and heading home at this time of the year,’’ he said. “Now I’m playing games that are really important. I love it. I still want to play ball.

“Every year I would get mad and say, ‘I’m not watching the playoffs. I’m done with baseball, it’s over.’ But sure enough every night, somehow the remote finds that channel. Somehow, some way I’m watching baseball.

“I want to be there and get that experience. If you can play well in the postseason, that can make your career.’’

Might that get his friends to put on Red Sox caps?

“No chance,’’ Aviles said. “They might clap for me in New York, but they’ll make sure nobody can see them.’’

Tiebreaker scenarios Major League Baseball is dreading the idea of the Sox, Rays, and Angels finishing tied for the wild card. That would require a two-day playoff and the delay of the Division Series.

If two teams tie, they would play a one-game playoff Sept. 29. The team with the better head-to-head record would host. The Red Sox would host the Angels and play at Tampa Bay.

If three teams are tied, the teams must be designated Clubs A, B, and C, and they choose their designation based on head-to-head records.

Club B would play at Club A Sept. 29. The winner would then host Club C Sept. 30 to determine the wild card.

Because the Rays were 16-10 against the Red Sox and Angels, they would get to choose first. They would surely choose to be Club C and play just once.

The Red Sox would get the next choice, having gone 12-14 against the Rays and Angels. The Angels were 6-10. The Sox would certainly pick Club A to play two home games.

The tiebreaker playoff winner would then play the next day, Oct. 1, in the Division Series on the road.

Yankees set rotation The Yankees will start Freddy Garcia, A.J. Burnett, and Ivan Nova this weekend. Garcia is 0-2 with a 6.92 ERA in four appearances against the Sox this season. Burnett is 0-4 with an 8.10 ERA in nine career starts against Sox while a member of the Yankees. Nova has started one game against the Sox this season, giving up four runs on seven hits over 4 1/3 innings April 9 . . . The Sox are 11-4 against the Yankees. They have not won 12 games against their rivals in the regular season since going 14-4 in 1973 . . . In addition to their well-documented pitching problems and inconsistent offense, the Sox have committed 23 errors in the last 21 games.

Peter Abraham can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @PeteAbe.

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