Tuesday, May 29, 2007

inside the park

These are truly halcyon days at Fenway Park. After today's 4-2 win over the Cleveland Indians, the Red Sox hold the best record in the majors, an 11 1/2-game lead in the American League East, and a 14 1/2-game advantage over the last-place New York Yankees. Today's victory marked the triumphant return of Josh Beckett, who had been on the disabled list with an avulsion on the middle finger of his pitching hand. Beckett raised his record to 8-0, tying him with the Angels' John Lackey for the major league lead in victories.

Lately the Red Sox' best hitter has been Kevin Youkilis, who is currently riding a 21-game hitting streak and a nine-game stretch in which he has had at least two hits. (And yes, for you non-baseball fans, that's a very impressive streak; it's the first time a Red Sox player has done that since Jim Rice in 1978.) Youkilis has always been one of my favorite players -- a blue-collar guy who plays solid defense, hustles on every play, and grinds out a tough at-bat every time he comes up. He makes opposing pitchers throw a lot of pitches, and he hits the ball hard. In the minors he acquired the nickname "The Greek God of Walks," a tribute to his willingness to take a lot of pitches and to his less-than-chiseled physique.

In yesterday's game, Youkilis hit a long fly ball to center field that was just long enough to elude the center fielder's grasp. The ball ricocheted off the bullpen wall and toward left field. Because Youkilis ran hard straight out of the batter's box, by the time the Indians' right fielder, Trot Nixon, retrieved the ball, Youkilis was already rounding third and headed for home. It was the first inside-the-park home run by a Red Sox player since 2005. Who hit that one? Why, it was none other than Trot Nixon.

Youkilis deserves a spot on the A.L. All-Star team this year. Although Minnesota's Justin Morneau is the reigning A.L. Most Valuable Player and is having another great season, Youkilis deserves a spot, too. Hopefully there will be room enough for both of them.

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