THIS STORY HAS BEEN FORMATTED FOR EASY PRINTING

Youkilis supplies some healthy production

By Amalie Benjamin
Globe Staff / October 4, 2007

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Not perfect. That was the pregame scouting report on the state of Kevin Youkilis's right wrist as the Red Sox headed into the postseason. Not perfect, but apparently good enough.

Because in his first at-bat last night, Youkilis cracked a home run for his first career postseason hit. He stroked a double in his second at-bat. He scored the first two runs of the game, putting a jolt into a team that would need little else behind a dominating effort from Josh Beckett in a 4-0 takedown of the Angels in Game 1 of their American League Division Series.

"It lifts you," Dustin Pedroia said of the first-inning homer. "You always look for a spark, especially early in the game. And [Youkilis] gave it to us. It was huge."

After Pedroia grounded to third, Youkilis lofted a shot into the Monster Seats on a 2-1 pitch from John Lackey. The dugout erupted, the players heading out to the steps to watch the ball soar to left field and into the books. They seemed - one could go out on a limb and say - pretty darn happy about the development.

"You want to score first, you want to win first, you want to throw that first-pitch strike," Coco Crisp said. "You want to be the first to do something positive. And to score first, that's big in trying to win a ballgame."

Especially a postseason game. Especially against the Angels.

"I got a good pitch, a good fastball to hit, and took advantage of it and tried to take a good swing at it," Youkilis said. "Didn't try to do too much, and luckily, I got a good result out of it and was very happy that it got out. Because definitely left-center field here is very tough sometimes to hit it out, and to get it up there it felt really good."

Much better than getting hit on the right wrist by a pitch from Yankee ace Chien-Ming Wang. It was Sept. 15 that Youkilis was hit, the result a deep tendon bruise, though it appeared the wrist might be broken. Instead it was just red, swollen, painful. And it kept him out until Sept. 25, when he entered as a pinch hitter, helped by a cortisone shot in the interim.

While it has improved, it's still not completely healed. It's progressing steadily and doesn't seem to have harmed his stroke - last night, at least - as he became the first member of the Red Sox to hit a home run for his first playoff hit since Todd Walker in 2003.

He added a third-inning double to left, a one-out hit that was followed by a towering home run to right from David Ortiz.

"The one good thing for us the past week or so is he's been hitting a lot extra on the days off," manager Terry Francona said. "So you can kind of tell just by watching if guys are shying away from hitting and trying to rest it. When he first came back, he went through some fatigue with it, and I'm sure it's not 100 percent. But [he] took some pretty good swings."

And there's no question Youkilis was going to play in the postseason, perfect wrist or not. He knows the team needs him, and knows that he needs to be playing now. It's that point in the season, after all.

He was there in 2004, though he was hitless in two at-bats in the ALDS. Think that mattered to him by the end?

"Right now we're playing baseball," Youkilis said. "How great is that to keep playing in October? That is the best feeling you can have. Your adrenaline never gets as high as it does right now. The fans just coming to the field every day. Just looking your teammates in the eye and seeing how excited they are. Guys that aren't even playing that are so excited just to be here. It is a different vibe. Everyone's pulling for each other and everyone's picking each other up. It is the best time of year."

Amalie Benjamin can be reached at abenjamin@globe.com.

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