Saturday, October 4, 2008

M... V... P...

I think we all forgot.

I think we all forgot, in the hullabaloo over Dustin Pedroia's stretch run -- the second baseman hit .355 with 35 RBI and 43 runs in his final 48 games -- just who the real MVP of the Red Sox and the American League should be this year.

Hint: He was the guy playing out of position last night but still making two impressive defensive plays to close out the Angels.

Kevin Youkilis hit .312, OBP'ed .390 and slugged .569 this season with 29 home runs and 115 RBIs. (For comparison, Minnesota's Justin Morneau hit .300 with 23 home runs and 129 RBI, and he had an OBP of .374 and a slugging percentage of .499.)

But it's Youkilis' other contribution -- his ability to play first and third base at a high level -- that sets him apart.

When the Red Sox traded for Mike Lowell, Youkilis moved to first base and turned himself into an outstanding defender at that position. When Lowell got hurt earlier this season, Youkilis moved back to third and acquitted himself well once again; he finished with a plus-8 on Bill James' Fielding Bible scale, exactly the same number with which Lowell finished the season.

And when a torn labrum sidelined Lowell for Game 2 of the American League Division Series, Youkilis again shifted over to third base and was one of the big keys to the game. He made a great play coming in on a Torii Hunter bunt to lead off the inning -- the sort of dribbler the Angels couldn't seem to handle all night. He then robbed pinch-hitter Gary Matthews with an awfully nice catch of a pop fly while leaning into the camera well.

From there, it was easy for Jonathan Papelbon to finish off the overmatched Howie Kendrick.

The votes already are in -- with many of them undoubtedly marked "Francisco Rodriguez," too -- but Kevin Youkilis showed again Friday night why he's the most valuable player in the American League.

One other note: I might be the only one, but I'm not sure why Terry Francona ran for David Ortiz in a tie game in the 9th inning. If they were down one run, sure, I get it. A single scores Coco Crisp and probably doesn't score Ortiz. Fine. You need that run.

But in a tie game, what happens if everyone does what Youkilis did in that spot? What if everyone grounds out or pops up or strikes out or something? Then you've lost Ortiz in a game that's probably headed for extra innings. Along those same lines: What if you get back-to-back hits? What if Youkilis grounds to second base and then J.D. Drew singles? Ortiz is just as capable as Crisp of scoring in that situation. With no outs in the inning, the possibilities were endless.

It ended up working out, obviously, when J.D. Drew hit his two-run home run -- but Ortiz would have scored on that, too. In a tie game and with Papelbon set to pitch the bottom of the ninth, it seems like what you lose by lifting Ortiz in a potential extra-innings game outweighs what you gain by having a faster runner on second base with no outs.

Maybe it's just me.

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