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Youkilis a professional sitter, too

DENVER - He has been asked to put his bat, his glove, and his ego on the shelf.

Kevin Youkilis was the designated sitter last night for Game 3 of the World Series, and it was the most difficult role he has assumed in his 3 1/2 seasons with the Red Sox.

Imagine completing an entire major league season without committing an error. Then, imagine hitting .500 in the American League Championship Series against Cleveland, including delivering multiple clutch hits.

Consider the fact you are batting .396 in the postseason, and have done absolutely everything your manager and teammates could possibly ask of you - including controlling your sometimes mercurial temper.

So you are two games away from celebrating your second World Series championship in four years, except you were not a pivotal part of 2004, because you were just a kid along for the ride, soaking up the moment so that when your time came, you'd be ready.

Your time has come. You are ready.

But you have to take a seat.

The designated hitter disappears when you venture into National League territory, and that means superstar David Ortiz becomes a man without a moniker. Ortiz has been hampered by a torn meniscus in his right knee that will require surgery after the season, and there is legitimate concern whether he can display the dexterity required to cover the bag and stretch for those throws. Boston is clearly gambling defensively by penciling him in at first.

But Big Papi is the heart of this Red Sox lineup. Forget his production numbers, which are pretty impressive (a .385 postseason average with 3 HRs and 8 RBIs). He is a long ball threat every time he steps to the plate. He strikes fear in opposing pitchers like no other, except for Manny Ramírez, and that's the other reason you simply can't ask Ortiz to sit. Without Ortiz, Ramírez is not nearly as effective.

As my colleague, Dan Shaughnessy, observed yesterday, sitting David Ortiz would be like sitting Babe Ruth.

And that's something you cannot do.

And so Youkilis is the odd man out. You could put him at third in place of Mike Lowell, but then you have weakened your infield in two spots, and that simply doesn't make sense in a World Series game.

In his pregame press conference, manager Terry Francona said Youkilis has handled his odd dilemma the way he expected him to handle it - professionally.

"People were expecting this to be an issue," said Francona. "It never entered my mind it would be an issue."

Francona expounded on that statement minutes later, in a smaller media setting.

"Of course Youk wants to play," the manager said. "But it's not like I can go to the commissioner and [change the no DH rule]. He's a good player, a good kid. There's some trust involved.

"I think he has the ability to step back and look at this logically, which not all guys can do. But you're talking about David Ortiz and Mike Lowell here. It's not like he's benched."

Youkilis's versatility has been his greatest asset and his greatest curse. It's always valuable when you can play multiple positions. Youkilis proved to be a more than adept third baseman in his early years with the big club, but after Kevin Millar moved on from first and Lowell moved in at third, Youkilis became a full-time first baseman.

He embraced his job with enthusiasm and tenacity. He scooped up ground ball after ground ball, and, when the bucket of balls was empty, he instructed the coaching staff to hit a few more his way. And, Youkilis always made sure he took some grounders at third, too - just in case.

But while he's a natural third baseman, he's not a Gold Glove third baseman like Lowell.

Here's the other factor to consider. If Boston bolts to an early lead, you can expect to see Youkilis as early as the sixth or seventh inning in place of Ortiz for defensive reasons.

"And," reasoned Francona, "if something went wrong, and the game ended up tied, it's not like we put a guy in only as a defensive replacement. I mean, the kid is one of the better hitters in the game."

Youkilis understands all of this. He has won the respect of his peers for his intensity, his work ethic, and his understanding of what team means. Few .396 hitters have ever been asked to sacrifice quite in this manner, but Youkilis understands what is at stake.

It's a World Series ring, and even though he's got one already, this one would mean much, much more.

Jackie MacMullan is a Globe columnist. Her address is macmullan@globe.com.

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