Sox still standing

Tim Brown
Yahoo! Sports

BOSTON – A clammy afternoon in the Back Bay began with an umpires' warning that the Boston Red Sox and New York Yankees direct their pitches to their catchers' mitts and away from each other, which is generally how it went.

They'd said nothing about broad-shouldered third basemen evading squirty middle infielders, which is how Yankees second baseman Robinson Cano got himself plowed over by Mike Lowell in the fourth inning.

"Ironic," Lowell said, given that he was taught in the minor leagues to take out the second baseman on a play in the baselines, and that he was raised in the Yankees' system.

They'd completely overlooked the poor denizens of Fenway Park, pelted by four home runs in a combined 10 innings of work by Curt Schilling and Mike Mussina, and another after that.

They'd not cautioned about keeping one's head out of traffic, and that's why Doug Mientkiewicz was hauled off the field on a golf cart, clearing the fog and counting his teeth, though maybe he should have seen Lowell coming after the Cano incident three innings earlier. It wasn't Lowell's fault Mientkiewicz ended the day at Massachusetts General; it was the way the game was played.

"I like Doug," Lowell said. "I hope he's OK."

And they'd forgotten the dangers of onrushing optimism, as word reached the pockets of Yankees fans here that Roger Clemens' arm was good to go but his groin wasn't, meaning Monday night's start in Chicago belonged to Kei Igawa, meaning the big, miraculous Yankee breakthrough might have to wait.

"Where's Roger?" chanted the fans at Fenway Park in the late innings. "Where's Roger?"

So it was that the Red Sox and Yankees banged pads again for nine innings, neither Schilling nor Mussina having much to do with an 11-6 win by the Red Sox, this being no place for pitchers. That's 31 combined runs in two days, 10 more Yankees relievers in 24 hours, another 13½-game spread between the Red Sox and Yankees in the American League East.

And maybe it's a coincidence, but ever since Kevin Youkilis took a ball on or near his head going on 11 p.m. Friday, the Red Sox have outscored the Yankees 13-6 on the scoreboard and 2-0 on players lying in the dirt.

And while this is an offense of David Ortiz and Manny Ramirez, and will be through summer and into October, there is much to be said for what Mike Lowell and Kevin Youkilis do around them. Lowell had three hits and four RBIs Saturday, an afternoon after he took a Chien-Ming Wang fastball off the back of his hand. Youkilis saw a 23-game hitting streak die in the eighth inning, when, with a four-run lead and the crowd begging him to push it to 24, he took a 3-and-1 pitch for his third walk of the afternoon. He then scored on a double by … Lowell.

Nobody was hit by a pitch Saturday. Everybody moved on.

"This wasn't a beanball war," Red Sox manager Terry Francona said – no, nearly shrieked – in between games.

Five batters got it the night before. That Youkilis (along with owner John Henry) seemed the only one to take exception was not a surprise, first because Youkilis nearly caught the fastball with his forehead and then because Youkilis plays to every last corner of every game.

It's why they're learning to love him here because he's got some Trot Nixon gamer in him, along with that .350 batting average, .430 on-base percentage, errorless first base and a look – head shaved, teeth bared, chin with some sort of rodent pelt attached – that is uniquely his.

Even as the Yankees knocked around a couple Red Sox pitchers, and the crowd wore out A-Rod for his choice in gal pals and sportsmanship, the enduring image of Game 1 here was of Youkilis – veins engorged, eyes agape – inquiring of Yankees pitcher Scott Proctor, "What the (heck) is that?"

When his hitting streak was over and he stood at first base, the Fenway crowd rose, applauded and gave him a good long "Yoooook," appreciative of the previous four weeks, admiring his selflessness.

"We just won a ballgame," he said, eyes hardened. "Who gives a (darn) about a streak?"

Not him, clearly.

It is, Johnny Damon, a former teammate, said, his nature. The single-mindedness. The edginess.

"When we were here," Damon said, meaning in Boston together, "he kept complaining, 'I can't believe I'm not playing.' "

Kevin Millar and Billy Mueller, at the time, were busy winning a championship, then trying to defend it.

Damon chuckled.

"He certainly has the self-confidence," he said.

Red Sox fans might not want to hear this, but there's a Paul O'Neill-ishness in there, too; the every plate-appearance relentlessness, the battered equipment, even the warm-up swings in the on-deck circle – back elbow high, knee raised, chop-down swing. They share an agent, as it turns out. They share Cincinnati ties.

Joe Torre won with O'Neill and now deals with Youkilis.

"The selfishness of trying to get a hit every time up to help your team win," he said, "I don't think there's anything wrong with that."

Good by Youkilis.

"I've been told it's a weakness," he said. "But, if you play this game and you've left it out there every day and the worst thing someone says is you get upset over failure, so be it. I love being successful. And I love winning. That's what you play the game for."

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