10/19/07 2:13 AM ET
Sox's top of order comes back to life
Performances by Youkilis, Pedroia lift Boston in must-win game
By David Briggs / MLB.com
Kevin Youkilis' solo homer over the 19-foot left-field wall in Thursday night's first inning had given Boston its first lead in the American League Championship Series in a week. And for a Red Sox club looking to hold off the offseason for another day in a stadium raring to celebrate an Indians pennant, this was no small feat.
"I think a lot of guys were pretty pumped up to get on top," Youkilis said. "It definitely eased a lot of people's minds, and it was great. But we also knew that one run [wasn't enough]; we had to get more than that."
They did. Youkilis and Dustin Pedroia offered a top-of-the-order punch all night in the Red Sox's 7-1 victory over the Indians in Game 5.
The pair went 4-for-8 with three RBIs, three runs scored and a pair of walks, delivering the early boost and then burying the Tribe in the seventh inning.
With the Red Sox ahead, 2-1, Pedroia led off the frame with a double before Youkilis sent a liner to left-center that bounced off the glove of a diving Grady Sizemore. Youkilis had a triple, and with Josh Beckett supplying another tour de force, the Sox had a win.
For Pedroia, his 2-for-4 night offered a vindication of sorts. Though he had been swinging the bat reasonably well throughout the postseason, hitting several screamers at Cleveland fielders, he came into Thursday hitting just .172. And when the subject was broached on Wednesday's off-day, Pedroia grew irritable.
The mood was different after Thursday's win -- sort of.
"I don't get too down when things don't go my way," Pedroia said. "I try to stay away from all the negativity that goes on around here. I know throughout the course of the year I had 500 at-bats and I hit over .300. So I don't think having 12 or 13 at-bats means I stink. Other people think so, which is fine. I'll just grind it out."
As for Youkilis, the man just continued to defy explanation.
The Sox first baseman entered the postseason with legitimate concerns about how his right wrist would hold up. Youkilis missed a week late in the season after being nailed by a pitch, and the wrist didn't feel entirely healthy when he returned.
"When I hit, I'm more of a handsy hitter. I try to use more hands than body a lot of times," Youkilis said. "It was tough just to get the swing back and get the feel of facing live pitching again. When you're out for over a week, it's very tough to go out there and hit against live pitching."
Yet October came and the pain disappeared. Youkilis is now hitting .421 in the postseason.
"Luckily, I've gone up there every at-bat and just felt comfortable in the box," Youkilis said.
Sox manager Terry Francona even thought that the week Youkilis missed late in the season served as somewhat of a "blessing in disguise." Youkilis' average had gradually declined in the second half, something Francona attributed partly to a lack of bat speed brought on by the season's grind.
"I think some of the aches and pains go away. Youk has really taken some good swings, had some good at-bats," Francona said. "I think the way Youk plays, he can somewhat wear down at times. ... I think some of his aches and pains go away, and his bat speed looks like it's where it was at the beginning of the year."
David Briggs is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.