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Dan Shaughnessy

Covering the bases with Youkilis

By Dan Shaughnessy
Globe Columnist / August 26, 2009

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He is the Swiss Army Knife of baseball players. The late Billy Mays would have been perfect for a Kevin Youkilis infomercial.

“Youuuuuk! He plays first base! He plays third base! He plays left field! He’ll pitch if you want him to pitch! Slices, dices, gets the scratches out of your car! He is Kevin Youkilis! Order him now and get a free set of Ginsu knives!’’

The Red Sox are in a steel-cage match for a playoff spot. They have a glut of hitters and a dearth of lineup spots. Boston’s batting order changes every day. It’s musical chairs, with Terry Francona holding the baton and the “stop’’ button.

Ortiz in, Drew out. Varitek in, Kotchman out. Baldelli in, Lowell out.

The only constant in all of this is Kevin Youkilis. He’s always in. But he’s not always playing the same position.

Youkilis’s versatility gives Francona options that most managers do not have. Youk is a Gold Glove first baseman. That’s where he belongs. But he can play third as well as just about anybody in either league. If Francona wants to give Mike Lowell’s old bones a rest, Youk can be Brooks Robinson for the night.

He can also play short, second, left, center, or right. Just don’t expect Ozzie Smith, Roberto Alomar, Carl Yastrzemski, Willie Mays, or Roberto Clemente.

Happily, Youk is not complaining about any of this. He looks at the lineup card, grabs the appropriate mitt, and goes to work. Not many managers have had a player with this level of skill and understanding.

The Red Sox lineup card for tonight’s 7:10 game against Gavin Floyd and the White Sox will not be made public until 3:30 this afternoon. Youkilis already knows where he is playing.

“They tell me the night before,’’ said Youkilis, who singled in the Sox’ second run in last night’s 6-3 victory over the White Sox.

He has done this before.

“In 2005, when I was down [in the minors], I played third, first and second for a couple of weeks,’’ he said. “That’s the last time I really did something like this. I just go out and play the position. Whatever glove I have on is the position I’m playing that day. Do my work to get ready for the game and that’s about it.’’

Which one is harder?

“Third’s definitely harder than first,’’ he said.

“It doesn’t bother me. It’s definitely good for the team and that’s what it’s about. I’m trying to help the team win ballgames. We just have a situation where we have a lot of guys that can play a couple of spots. We just have to make sure everyone’s fresh.’’

Youkilis is intense. We saw this when he charged the mound after getting hit by a pitch in a game against the Tigers two weeks ago. The rage cost him five games and brought criticism to his stall. He was wounded by the poison arrows.

“I’m just annoyed with the media as a whole,’’ he said. “People write stuff about players on this team throughout the whole year and it’s been going on for years and people just keep writing crap.’’

Get back, (Mark) Loretta. Youk is just getting warmed up.

“One night we get beat and it’s the end of the world and the next night we win big and it’s totally solid. We’re back. It’s up and down. One night we’re getting bashed and the next time they’re cheering. One guy has a bad game one night and they’re all over him and the next night he has a good game and he’s a hero.

“It’s a roller coaster ride for us and it’s a roller coaster ride for the fans. Then when it gets expressed to the fans, then it’s even more of a roller coaster. You guys don’t have to hear what people say to us on the street. People have made comments to me. I’ve heard them say some things to my teammates.

“The problem with the game and all sports . . . I understand everything’s not positive in this world. And negative stuff sells. But I come to the ballpark and go to a football game or basketball games. I don’t even think you can take kids to a game anymore. There’s so much negative yelling and screaming at players. People don’t even root for their team anymore. They just root against the opposition’s players. They’re so angry at people.

“I get sick of the questions. After we lose a game, [they’re saying] it’s over in the AL East. What are you gonna do now?’’

Youk sounds a little like Childe Nomar, circa 2004.

“When people ask me, ‘What do you love about Boston?’ I say, ‘From 7 o’clock until the last pitch is thrown.’ That’s the best time in the world. I love it. I love playing on the field.

“But there’s a lot of stuff that goes on. People portray people. I’ve been portrayed as a guy who breaks helmets and breaks bats. I don’t do that. The only reason I have a new helmet this year is because the padding wore out on the ear flap of my old one.

“Whatever. But when I see negative stuff all the time, that bothers me. If I don’t comment, people are going to get mad at me. But I’m just going to ‘no comment’ about certain things. If people don’t like it, they don’t like it.

“People know me. I have good intentions, I do good things in the community. But I’ve heard more and more crap from people, [they] talk to my wife and talk to my people and say stuff, and I’m like, ‘You know what? I’m sick of it.’ ’’

We understand. Boston forever will be the place where everybody knows your name and it’s not always about Cheers.

Dan Shaughnessy is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at dshaughnessy@globe.com.

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