ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. - It's getting harder to tell whether Rays fans are booing Kevin Youkilis when he steps to the plate at Tropicana Field, or if Red Sox supporters are simply screaming his familiar nickname. It's likely an indecipherable mix.
What isn't hard to tell is why both sides feel compelled to show their feelings about the Red Sox cleanup man.
Youkilis continued a successful American League Championship Series last night with a home run and a pair of RBIs as the Red Sox topped the Rays, 4-2, in Game 6 of this best-of-seven series.
Youkilis is now hitting .370 (10 for 27) in the series with three doubles, two homers, four runs, and six RBI.
"Youk's unbelievable," said second baseman Dustin Pedroia. "He's been great all season, but he took over that 4-hole and hasn't looked back. He keeps getting big hit after big hit, and he's one of the reasons why we are here."
Youkilis has saved some of his finest play for the ALCS. He's hit safely in 12 of his 13 career ALCS games, batting .436 (24 for 55) during that span. That's the second-highest mark in LCS history (50-plus at-bats) behind Will Clark (.468, 29 for 62). Youkilis entered Game 6 with the best slugging percentage (.820) in LCS history.
Last night his homer erased an early deficit. Leading off the second inning, Youkilis, who typically sees plenty of pitches in his at-bats, got nothing but fastballs from starter James Shields and jumped all over a 2-and-1 offering that sat belt high over the heart of the plate. Youkilis redirected it into the second row of stands beyond the 370 sign in left-center field to tie the game at 1.
Youkilis didn't hit it nearly as far in the third inning, but it was deep enough to put another run on the board. With runners on second and third with one out following a David Ortiz double, Youkilis grounded to shortstop Jason Bartlett, allowing Pedroia (walk) to scoot home with the go-ahead run as the Sox took a 2-1 advantage.
The Rays tied the game, but never led again.
"That first at-bat, I got a fastball, a little up, and I got a good piece on it," said Youkilis. "I'm glad it got out. I've had some trouble here getting home runs. The next at-bat, with runners on, I was just trying not to line out. I wanted to hit the ball up the middle and I got a fastball that I could hit."
Youkilis could have added to the Sox' cushion in the sixth and eighth, but didn't produce. With two on and two out in the sixth, he struck out on a curveball from J.P. Howell. With two on in the eighth, he ended the frame by bouncing into a 5-4-3 double play.
The Red Sox corner man (he's shined defensively at first base and third, where he shifted after a hip injury sidelined Mike Lowell) looked at only 17 pitches last night over five at-bats. That's a minuscule number for someone who looked at 10 pitches in his final at-bat in Game 5 and was rewarded by reaching on a throwing error. He later scored the winning run on J.D. Drew's walkoff hit.
Expect that to change tonight when the Sox go up against Matt Garza in Game 7.
"We hit some balls hard tonight, we just didn't always catch breaks," said Youkilis, who was 1 for 5. "We have to go up there and have good at-bats. Work counts. Tomorrow, we have to get Garza out of there as soon as possible."
The Rays know getting Youkilis out will be a prime goal, too. For his postseason career, Youkilis is hitting .344 (33 for 96), which leaves him second all-time in Sox history (75-plus plate appearances) behind only Carl Yastrzemski (.369, 24 for 65).
"[Tonight] was a great win for us; the only way we were going to play more baseball," said Youkilis. "We forced them to Game 7, and if it happens in Game 7, then we'll go on to World Series. That's an exciting feeling."
Chris Forsberg can be reached at email@example.com.