I was wrong. Close to two months ago, I argued that if Youkilis was healthy, Middlebrooks would not overtake him. The husky corner infielder was healthy–he simply did not produce. The young kid from Texarkana, Texas, did. Youkilis, who willed himself into becoming an All-Star caliber major leaguer, spent more time arguing with umpires since he return from the disabled list than he did putting together quality at-bats. Middlebrooks, on the other hand, chose to do his talking on the diamond, rather than in the runway that leads to the clubhouse at Marlins Park in Miami.
Injuries, declining performance, and the emergence of a bright young star combined to spell the end of the Youkilis Era in Boston. But it was a heck of a good run.
If you’re someone like myself–a high strung individual who feels anxious when he is not able to watch or listen to the Red Sox when they’re on–then you possess a deep rooted appreciation for the way Youk approached the game. It didn’t matter whether it was April or September–each game mattered immensely to the Cincinnati native. I hang on the result of each pitch whether it is overcast in May, blisteringly hot in July, or refreshingly cool in October. So did Youk. If Youkilis made a soft out in a game, it wasn’t “that’s okay, I’ll get him the next time.” It was a failure. It was an opportunity missed, a chance to help his team squandered. Fans saw pieces of themselves in Youkilis.
The former Gold Glove winner will always be cast in the same “dirt dog” light as fellow champion Trot Nixon, but Youk was more than just a dirty uniform. In 2008, a year that saw Youkilis finish with a smooth .312/.390/.569 slash line, the gritty then first baseman finished third in MVP voting behind teammate Dustin Pedroia and Justin Morneau. Not bad for a guy who used to provoke talk radio callers to refer to him as You-Kill-Us. That year was simply the apex of a Red Sox career that included two World Series titles. He served as a vital cog on the 2007 championship team.
I’ll never forget the job Youkilis did in the 2007 ALCS against the Indians. The Red Sox rallied to overcome a 3-1 series deficit and beat the Tribe, spurring them on to a World Series win over the rusty Rockies. Youk had 28 at-bats in the ALCS. He collected hits in 14 of them. You could rely on him.
When Youkilis was right, he grinded out at-bats. Nothing was made easy for the poor guy on the mound. He got on-base. He scored runs. He drove them in. He was productive. As fans, we trusted him. When Youkilis came to the plate, we felt like we were in good hands. In baseball, you’re going to make an out more often than you get a hit, but with Youkilis, you never felt cheated. For at least four plate appearances each game, you got your money’s worth.
And for the better part of nine seasons, so did the Red Sox.