Kevin Youkilis' hot postseason bat is making Red Sox fans forget about his second half slump.
The first baseman batted just .238 after the All-Star Game following a .328 first half, but he's put all worries by the Boston faithful to rest by wearing out opposing pitching in the postseason. After a 3-for-12 performance against the Angels in the Division Series, Youkilis got three hits in each of the last two games to bat .500 (14-for-28) in the ALCS.
Youkilis, who had 10 runs scored, seven RBIs, three home runs and a triple, will now try to keep it going in the World Series beginning Tuesday night at 8 p.m. EDT on Fox.
"For us to win, somebody's got to get hot," shortstop Julio Lugo told the Boston Globe. "Youkilis has been our guy. He's our guy right now. He's getting the hits when it counts."
On Saturday night, Youkilis collected three singles, two of which were infield hits, in the first three innings of play. In Game 7, the right-hander singled and scored in the first inning, doubled to left field and scored in the third inning and hit a two-run homer in the eighth inning to lead the Red Sox to an 11-2 victory.
"It felt great," Youkilis said of the homer. "It felt great to get that good pop I need, to come to the plate with confidence ... and to know, we are going to the World Series."
Matsuzaka got Game 3 'out of his system' quickly: When Boston manager Terry Francona sent Daisuke Matsuzaka to the mound Sunday night to start Game 7 of the American League Championship Series, he had all the confidence in the world in his right-hander, despite the fact Matsuzaka lasted only 4 2/3 innings in his Game 3 start against Cleveland.
"So much was made about Daisuke sitting in front of his locker, acting like his season was over," Francona told the Boston Globe. "And then you hear his explanation the next day. He just wanted to get it out of his system. He said, 'I didn't want to go back to the hotel sitting on this one.' I know he was dejected, but he went back with [translator] Masa [Hoshino], and watched the other game [Rockies-Diamondbacks]. He's excited. He was frustrated and disappointed. He just wanted to get it out of his system so he could start fresh. This is what he needed to do.
"You watch him in the first inning, he'll be up on the top step, smiling. There have been some tough nights for him this year. I'll go to [pitching coach] Johnny [Farrell] and ask, "How's Daisuke?' Then you'd look at him, he's got that smile. I think he's done a terrific job with what's been thrown at him. Again, not every inning has been perfect. But I mean the whole ball of wax. He's done a great job of handling it. He came in today with his guys and they were laughing."
Matsuzaka showed why Francona believes in him by earning the win Sunday night as Boston defeated Cleveland to advance to the World Series for the second time in four years. Matsuzaka allowed only two runs in five innings of work before the Boston bullpen took over the final four innings of play.
'Famous person' Millar throws out first pitch: It doesn't seem that long ago that Baltimore Orioles first baseman Kevin Millar was a part of the 2004 Boston Red Sox team that won a World Series. Actually, to Millar, that sense of team never really ended. As proof of that, he was on hand in Boston on Sunday night to throw out the ceremonial first pitch in what was eventually an 11-2 Boston victory.
"It's definitely a little funny," Millar told MLB.com. "Most of the time, it's usually a retired person or a famous person or an actor."
The entire thing is a bit odd, though, being as Millar is not only not a Red Sox, but a member of a division rival in the Orioles.
"I don't get it," said Red Sox manager Terry Francona in his pregame press conference. "This is another one of those things where [Millar] can pull it off. He's a member of the Baltimore Orioles, he's going to be spurring on the Red Sox and nobody is going to say a word. He'll probably bring the house down. I don't get it. I love it, but I don't get it. It's Millar.
"The whole place will be coming down," Francona added. "It's hilarious."
The ovation that Millar received suggests that the Red Sox faithful are still grateful for having him as a part of the family when he was. "Great city," said Millar said. "Great place. ... It doesn't matter what happens to the [2004 World Series-winning] team, and just that whole group we had for three years. It was a blast."
"So no matter what team you play for, no matter what time or frame you're in, this is always a part of your life, and a part of your heart," he added. "That's why I'm here today."
Cook fighting for World Series roster spot: Colorado pitcher Aaron Cook is doing all he can to wind up on the World Series roster for the Rockies. Out since Aug. 10 with an oblique injury, Cook pitched four innings in the team's simulated game Saturday in Denver.
Facing the Rockies' regular lineup, Cook struggled early before settling down and looking like a pitcher who can provide some help in the World Series against Boston. Cook hoped to be added to the National League Championship Series roster, but he was left off.
"It'd mean a lot," Cook told the Rocky Mountain News of being on the World Series roster. "It's what everybody works for at the beginning of the season and basically what you work for your whole career, to get to the World Series. I've been busting my butt to get back."
In the simulated game, Cooked waked Willy Taveras and Kazuo Matsui in the first inning. He then induced a double play off the bat of Matt Holliday before allowing an RBI single to Todd Helton. Cook then retired the next seven batters he faced before allowing a home run to Matsui in the fourth.
While a starter, Cook said he would pitch in any role the coaching staff placed him in. However, Cook believes he would be more valuable as a starter for the Rockies.
"I told them I'd be up for anything," Cook said. "But if you've seen our relievers pitch this postseason, they don't need any help down there."
Helton aims for a hot bat after break: After winning seven straight postseason games and 21 of 22 games overall, counting both the regular season and playoffs, an eight-day layoff between games may not be what the Colorado Rockies were looking for after sweeping the Arizona Diamondbacks in the National League Championship Series to earn a berth in the World Series.
However, one Colorado player doesn't mind the layoff the Rockies have been on.
"For me, personally, I like it," first baseman Todd Helton told the Denver Post. "There's a lot of aches and pains that I want to go away. And I wasn't swinging the bat well. So I think the layoff will be good for me."
Helton struggled in the NLDS and NLCS, hitting a combined .154 (4-for-26) with one RBI. He struck out six times and had an on-base percentage of only .233. That is in sharp contrast to the regular season, when he hit .320 and had an on-base percentage of .434, ranking second in the National League behind Barry Bonds.
Helton appears to be finding his stroke. In Saturday's 10-inning intrasquad game, Helton was 5-for-6 with a double and two RBIs.
Indians' Lewis goes back to school: Cleveland Indians reliever Jensen Lewis knows the value of an education, and for that reason he went back to Vanderbilt last fall -- a year after being drafted by the Indians -- to finish his communications degree.
"If you go to that kind of school, you want to get your education. A degree from Vandy goes a long way in the real world," Lewis told the Akron Beacon Journal. "Baseball talent got me into a school that I might not have gotten into. So I had the chance to receive a top-10 education and play on a top-10 team."
Even after being signed by Cleveland, Lewis still had thoughts of getting and using that degree.
"Being ambitious, I wanted to be a play-by-play guy on radio or TV," he said. "I used to joke around a lot in college and in the Minors by doing play-by-play in the dugout and making up ridiculous stats. It was really pretty cheesy. I thought it was funny at the time, but it probably was terrible."
Upon his arrival in the Major Leagues, though, Lewis no longer does much entertaining. "A rookie should only speak when spoken to," he said. "He should be seen and not heard."
Liriano recovering nicely from Tommy John surgery: Minnesota Twins pitcher Francisco Liriano, who is recovering from Tommy John elbow ligament replacement surgery, should be able to contribute to the Twins next year, according to general manager Bill Smith.
"He is healthy and he is strong," Smith told the Minneapolis Star-Tribune. "He has been given the go-ahead to prepare for Spring Training as he normally would."
Liriano, who just turned 24, was 12-3 with an ERA of just 2.16 for the 2006 Twins before suffering the injury to his elbow. Since then he has been spending time at the Twins rehab center as he tries to ready himself for Spring Training.
"We're pleased with the progress he's made," said Smith. "He's healthy and has had no setbacks."
Westbrook undaunted by Game 7 start: Sometime after the Cleveland Indians lost Game 6 of the ALCS to Boston but before they lost Game 7, 11-2, Cleveland Indians pitcher Jake Westbrook talked about how excited he was to be taking the mound for the Tribe in the decisive game of the series.
"You can't get much bigger than that," Westbrook told MLB.com. "It's going to be a challenge and definitely a lot of emotions. But I'm excited to be the guy on the mound."
Despite seeing his team fall, Westbrook did his part by working six innings and allowing just three earned runs. It's not as though tossing Westbrook into the fire was a stretch for the Indians -- he's been solid in October thus far.
"He did a good job for us," said Indians manager Eric Wedge. "We're just looking for him to go out and give us a chance to win the ballgame. Jake has pitched some big ballgames for us and he's aggressive. He knows what he needs to do to be successful."
Westbrook finished the postseason with a 1-1 record and a 3.55 ERA.
Holliday had Buyan-esque blasts: Mariners manager John McLaren was a bench coach for the U.S. squad in the World Baseball Classic in 2006, where he coached Matt Holliday. The Rockies outfielder made an impression when he participated in a batting practice show with Chipper Jones and Derrek Lee.
"They tried to hit a bomb or two, and then Matt hit a couple. Those two said they'd had enough," McLaren told the Seattle Times. "He hit them like Paul Bunyan, over the light tower. As far as pure power, he had more than anyone there."
McLaren wanted Holliday to use fellow WBC teammate Ken Griffey Jr. as a model of how to act on the field.
"I want you to watch how Griffey handles himself and goes about his job," McLaren told Holliday. "Junior has the ability to look foolish on a pitch and laugh at himself, where you and I might break a bat over our head. If you get that, the sky's the limit."
McLaren explained, "To Matt, every pitch and every at-bat was life and death. Junior has the ability to laugh at himself. That's a great ability to have."
McLaren is rooting for Holliday during the playoffs.
"He's such a great young man, so intense," McLaren said.
Drew a fan favorite after grand slam: Boston right fielder J.D. Drew turned into an instant hero at Fenway Park Saturday night when he smashed a grand slam in the first inning to lead the Red Sox to a 12-2 win over Cleveland in Game 6 of the American League Championship Series.
The win forced a Game 7, which Boston won to advance to the World Series against Colorado.
"That was huge," Red Sox manager Terry Francona told the Boston Globe of Drew's first-inning homer off Fausto Carmona. "To say we were thrilled is an understatement."
Drew struggled for much of the regular season but started to heat up in September, when he hit .342. On Saturday night, not only did Drew hit the grand slam, he also had an RBI single in the third inning and collected a single in the eighth inning.
"It was a great feeling," Drew said of the home run. "I didn't have the year I would have liked to have, but I feel like I had a good September and started getting things turned around. Just wanted to go into the playoffs and have good at-bats."
The Boston faithful were so appreciative of Drew's performance in Game 6, they gave him a standing ovation as he returned to the dugout after flying out to left field in the fourth inning.
"It was tough," Francona said of Drew's early season struggles. "This is not an easy place not to do well," he added.
Koskie on the mend: Pending free agent Corey Koskie, who spent last season in Milwaukee after playing in Minnesota from 1998-2004, says that despite not playing since July 2006 as he battled postconcussion syndrome, he's considering coming back.
"I'm probably 100 percent better than that last time you saw me," Koskie told the Minneapolis Star-Tribune. "The funny thing about this injury is that I thought I was doing pretty good then. I look back now, and I was still in la-la land."
Koskie, who has visited doctors at he Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., says that he no longer gets headaches or suffers from dizziness after exercising.
This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.