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Youkilis among game’s best? Completely

By Nick Cafardo
Globe Staff / June 5, 2010

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BALTIMORE — Enough hedging every time we speak about Kevin Youkilis.

We call him underrated. We call him unappreciated. We call him one of the best first basemen.

Just call him an excellent ballplayer, because that’s what he is.

What a joke that he’s currently fourth in All-Star fan voting. What’s wrong with you people? Time to take your vote away. Maybe Youkilis isn’t the sexy pick like Mark Teixeira, or maybe Boston simply doesn’t stuff the ballot boxes like it used to. He’s been one of the best first basemen since he came into the league in 2004, a Gold Glove winner, and when he’s had to go back to his natural position at third, he’s been Gold Glove-caliber.

He hasn’t made an error this season and the Mariners’ Casey Kotchman recently broke his record with 2,003 consecutive chances without an error. So let’s cut to the chase: This guy is as good as any in the game today. He wants to play every day, every at-bat is World War II for the pitcher, and he leads with an intensity that’s hard to find around the league on a daily basis.

When Orioles interim manager Juan Samuel told his players he expected them to run out every ground ball because it only requires you to do that four times a game, what he should have done is point to Youkilis and say, “Play the game like this guy.’’

Youkilis blasted a three-run homer last night in the fourth inning, giving the Sox a 7-0 lead in a game that already seemed over. It certainly sealed the deal (11-0 final). He also singled in four at-bats. In his last four games Youkilis is 8 for 17 with six RBIs. He drew a major league-best 31 walks in May, which tied Ted Williams for the second-highest total for that month in Sox history.

The guy is an on-base machine — .448 this season. He’s scored a major league-high 48 runs and leads both leagues with 43 walks. He’s hitting .312 to go with 11 homers, 13 doubles, and 35 RBIs.

The Sox employ this for a mere $9.125 million per year, and no more than $13 million if they pick up his option in 2013. A lot of money, sure, but less than half of what Teixeira makes. Youkilis isn’t complaining. The Sox have got a bargain.

He also does a lot for kids with his Youk’s Hits For Kids Foundation. He’s surly to the media now and again, but who cares? Anyway, you appreciate his passion and his defense of his teammates. Even though David Ortiz was wrong in throwing his manager under the bus in a recent rant, Youkilis came to his defense. That’s part of what makes Youkilis a complete player.

Youkilis struck out with the bases loaded in the first inning and popped out in the second, but his homer was really struck — 428 feet. It came on a 1-and-0 pitch from Mark Hendrickson with two outs.

“It felt good as long as it stayed fair. Keeping the ball in play was huge and it was good to get those RBIs,’’ Youkilis said of the blast, which came with Bill Hall and Marco Scutaro aboard.

Youkilis, who also singled in the sixth, thinks he’s going through a decent stretch right now, but he doesn’t want to jinx himself.

“Some days are good and some days I’m trying to grind it out,’’ he said. “Over the long haul you’re going to have your good at-bats and your bad at-bats. It’s an up-and-down kind of stretch. It’s a long season and you have to keep pounding away. Whatever happened yesterday you have to let it go.’’

He said last night’s 11-run, 16-hit barrage was an “all-around good performance by our guys. That’s what happens on this team. We’re a great hitting team and we just go up there and have good at-bats and put together some runs early and we kept adding on, and that’s the key.’’

He didn’t put much stock in five of the 11 runs coming with two outs. “It doesn’t matter when you get it, it’s probably looked upon as greater with two outs,’’ he said. “But the key is scoring runs and driving in runs for us. We did a good job of it tonight and that helped us win a ballgame.’’

The Sox were well aware the Orioles fired Dave Trembley before the game. Teams that change managers midseason often play hard for their new manager. The Orioles continued to be out to lunch.

“Same game, same team,’’ shrugged Youkilis. “I think if you ask any manager, they’ll tell you they’re not the reason a team wins. They hope the players will go out there and play the game. Some managers tell you they lose more games than they win. That aside, it’s probably a tough day for them. Dave Trembley is a great guy. That’s the way it is in this game. You have to move on.’’

And so should we all . . . from hedging.

Kevin Youkilis is really good.

Nick Cafardo can be reached at cafardo@globe.com.

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