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Youkilis locked in, and hard to get out

Kevin Youkilis gets a hand from Adrian Beltre after leading off the sixth with a home run. Kevin Youkilis gets a hand from Adrian Beltre after leading off the sixth with a home run. (Tom Mihalek/Associated Press)
By Peter Abraham
Globe Staff / May 24, 2010

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PHILADELPHIA — Kevin Youkilis didn’t slide into third base in the second inning of yesterday’s game against the Phillies; he collapsed on it.

As Youkilis slid, he jarred his knee and rolled over the base. Then, as he got to his knees, the relay throw hit him in the back of the neck. Were it a “Three Stooges’’ episode, Moe would have emerged from the dugout and smacked Youkilis with a frying pan.

Manager Terry Francona and head trainer Mike Reinold came out of the dugout and attended to Youkilis, who insisted he was fine and stayed in the game.

“Just a little beat up,’’ Youkilis said later. “I wasn’t coming out.’’

That was a break for the Red Sox as Youkilis reached base two more times against Phillies starter Roy Halladay in an 8-3 victory at Citizens Bank Park. In addition to the triple, he walked and scored in the fourth inning and had a solo home run in the sixth.

The big day was part of an even bigger month for Youkilis. He has hit .397 (25 for 63) over 21 games with 12 extra-base hits, 21 runs, 15 RBIs, and 24 walks.

“He’s been terrific. He’s a good hitter that feels good about himself,’’ Francona said. “He doesn’t give at-bats away; he fouls balls off. He gets a pitch, he drives it.’’

Youkilis is hitting .322 on the season with 27 RBIs and a team-high nine home runs. His on-base percentage of .459 is second in baseball to Justin Morneau of the Twins, who is at .497. Youkilis leads the majors with 35 walks.

“He’s swinging the bat great,’’ teammate Dustin Pedroia said. “Long at-bats, everything he hits is on the barrel. He finds himself in a hitter’s count all the time because he’s a patient hitter.’’

Against Halladay, that is the key. Marco Scutaro played shortstop for two seasons behind the great righthander in Toronto and watched a steady stream of hitters take weak swings at pitches just off the plate.

Against a pitcher of that stature, hitters are often anxious to swing at the first pitch that looks good. The alternative is falling behind in the count, which creates more of an advantage for Halladay.

It’s that eagerness Halladay takes advantage of.

“Nothing is ever in the middle,’’ Scutaro said. “He gets you to swing at the pitch he wants. Some great pitchers overpower you, but he doesn’t do that. It was fun to play behind him because he worked so quickly. There were a lot of ground balls.’’

But Youkilis, one of the most patient hitters in baseball, doesn’t get himself out like so many others. He is 21 for 56 (.375) against Halladay with eight extra-base hits.

“I don’t think there’s any explanation,’’ Youkilis said. “He’s probably one of the best pitchers in the game and sometimes that helps because you focus. There’s no pressure on you; I think there’s more pressure on the pitcher a lot of times. You have to be confident in your abilities against him.

“You have to stick to your strengths. He’s going to give you stuff to hit but he also has good movement on the ball and will get you to swing at stuff you shouldn’t be swinging at.’’

For Scutaro, it goes beyond that. Youkilis, he said, has quick hands and can get to an inside pitch. That takes away one of Halladay’s weapons.

“Roy likes to work both corners,’’ Scutaro said. “Kevin takes away the inside from him sometimes. He’s a great hitter.’’

With the Red Sox unable to use a designated hitter in the interleague series, Francona juggled his players, sitting Youkilis Saturday night so David Ortiz could get a start.

Ortiz had an RBI double and scored two runs. Then he watched yesterday as Youkilis had two hits and scored three runs. Ortiz is 27 for 99 with six home runs against Halladay, but he knew Francona was in a corner.

“It’s a good thing that we have some hot hitters now,’’ Ortiz said. “I don’t think that’s a problem.’’

Peter Abraham can be reached at pabraham@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @peteabe.

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