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Bob Ryan

Drew: Fascinating turn of events

So that's the fascination with J.D. Drew.

Theo hopes you folks didn't mind waiting close to seven months to see why he lavished $70 million on his seemingly lethargic outfield prize. I believe he would say something like, "Good things come to ye who waits," or "he who waits." Whatever.

But the fact is that everyone has waited for Drew to provide dividends, at least the kind of dividends someone in possession of a five-year contract worth $70 million should produce. That would include the manager. Guys with those kinds of paychecks aren't ordinarily sat down so journeymen switch hitters such as Bobby Kielty can get hacks against a lefthanded starter, as Drew was in Games 1 and 5 of this American League Championship Series.

There is no way to rationalize away his 2007 regular-season failure. He was obtained to be the five-hitter the team so desperately needed, and he put up numbers befitting a routine second baseman, slugging .423 with 11 homers and 64 RBIs. The team did find its No. 5 hitter, but it wasn't J.D. Drew. It turned out to be Mike Lowell.

Drew did draw enough walks (79) to get his on-base percentage up to .373, but that didn't mean anyone wanted to see him up there in any meaningful situation. As the year went on, it became evident the only proper places in the batting order for him were first, eighth, or ninth.

Suffice it to say, he had not become a Fenway favorite. Children all over New England are probably convinced his first name is "Nancy," having heard him incessantly defamed as such by their elders after each soft fly ball, called third strike, or 4-6-3 with men on base.

Thus it was with minimal expectation the 37,163 in attendance, plus the multitudes taking it all in on TVs across this great Red Sox Nation of ours, watched Drew trudge to the plate with the bases loaded and two out in the first inning last night. The inning was on the verge of being a sick disaster. It had begun with great promise, Dustin Pedroia and Kevin Youkilis reaching via infield hits and David Ortiz drawing a 3-and-2 walk, having never deigned to offer at one of Fausto Carmona's pitches.

Manny Being Manny was up with the sacks filled and none out, and there might have been one or two among the millions of Red Sox fans watching who didn't know that Mr. Ramírez is the champion grand slam master among all living, breathing creatures (with all due respect to the memory of the great Lou Gehrig), but the number of the ignorant had to be in the single figures. Manny hung tough through 2 and 2 and a foul tip, but he whiffed for the first out.

Mike Lowell and his 120 regular-season ribbies engendered some faith, but he went first-ball hunting and hit a tepid fly to right. Two away. Was this splendid opportunity to give Curt Schilling control of this game in the wake of a 1-2-3 Cleveland first going to be tossed away, like yesterday's newspaper?

Well, there was one more chance. But J.D. Drew? A major clutch hit? Nah. Maybe he'll get hit by a pitch. Or Carmona will balk. Or those infamous Cleveland midges will take a quick road trip and attack Carmona.

The count went to 3 and 1. Drew swung at the next pitch and the ball took off on a low line trajectory to center. As Grady Sizemore drifted back, it looked as if the ball would hit the wall for a bases-clearing double or triple. But, no. The ball had just enough juice to clear the wall and land in the little hut with the TV cameras.

Get out of town! J.D. Drew hit a grand salami! J.D. Drew had come through in a big moment when Ramírez and Lowell hadn't. J.D. Drew had jump-started the Red Sox to a 12-2 triumph. Somewhere, Scott Boras was smiling.

And so was Terry Francona. "They got a chance to wiggle out of it," Francona noted, "and not only does he get a hit, but he drives in four. That changes the whole complexion of the game with one swing."

"That wins the game," added Curt Schilling, who threw seven very solid innings of six-hit, two-run ball.

Oops, almost forgot. Drew also rapped a sharp RBI single up the middle in the six-run third. That's five ribbies for Drew in the biggest game of the year (until the next biggest game of the year, which is tonight). He even tacked on a third single in the eighth.

Drew is an easy punching bag. He came here with the dual reputation of being brittle and a slug. He missed his customary 22 games this season and he did nothing to shake his reputation as a clinically sound but bloodless player. There is something about the way he goes about his business that infuriated many in St. Louis, Atlanta, and Los Angeles. Let's just say he doesn't radiate overt passion for the game. Obviously, this rap didn't scare off general manager Theo Epstein.

Away from the field, he is a very good person, he being a small-town Georgia kid who has strong family ties and who is active in time and generous with the wallet in his church. He doesn't bother a soul. The gossip people don't even know he exists.

He was unfailingly polite to the media this year, and he was also open and expansive talking about his young son, who has a physical problem that had placed the boy in a full body cast. It has been a very stressful summer for Drew and his wife.

For the record, his teammates have publicly backed him 100 percent this year.

This is why we love sport. Call it the You-Never-Know factor. When those 37,163 entered the ballpark last evening, not one of them thought they would see J.D. Drew get the biggest hit of the game. Not one of them thought they would be demanding, and getting, a first-inning curtain call from J.D. Drew.

But they did. That's the fascination of sport, let alone the fascination of J.D. Drew.

Bob Ryan is a Globe columnist. His e-mail is ryan@globe.com.

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