With One Swing, Drew's Long, Dry Summer Is Forgotten

J.D. Drew connected for a grand slam in the bottom of the first inning Saturday night to help propel the Red Sox to a 12-2 win and a tie in the ALCS.
J.D. Drew connected for a grand slam in the bottom of the first inning Saturday night to help propel the Red Sox to a 12-2 win and a tie in the ALCS. (By Jim Rogash -- Getty Images)
By Barry Svrluga
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, October 22, 2007

BOSTON -- Reprinted from yesterday's late editions

There was a list of unlikely chants that might have arisen from Fenway Park on Saturday night, "Let's Go Yankees!" foremost among them. But in the bottom of the first inning in a game the Boston Red Sox had to win came a preposterous noise heard rarely, if ever, in these parts: "J.D.!" And then, even louder. "J.D.! J.D.!!"

All this meant for J.D. Drew, of all people, enough to get him to pop his head from the home dugout, wave to the crowd -- so often full of scorn, yet suddenly adoring -- and then sneak back under for comfort, a new experience in his home park.

"The effect," Drew said, "is uplifting."

The $70 million man who spent much of the summer failing to deliver significant hits for the Red Sox, came through with the most meaningful of his brief career here. His two-out grand slam provided an instant four-run lead in what became a 12-2 thrashing of the Cleveland Indians in Game 6 of the American League Championship Series, pushing the teams to a decisive seventh game Sunday.

There was no way to expect the shot off Cleveland right-hander Fausto Carmona, because Drew's power has been largely left in batting practice. Drew added an RBI single in the third to drive in Boston's first five runs. In 148 games -- regular and postseason -- he never drove in more than three. He went 3 for 5 on the night. In 35 playoff games, he had never before collected three hits.

Before such a tiny morsel of glory, though, came rivers of angst. After opting out of his contract with the Los Angeles Dodgers last offseason, he signed a five-year, $70 million deal with Boston despite a reputation as a tremendously gifted underachiever. After driving in a career-high 100 runs last season, he plated all of 64 this year. Six Red Sox, including light-hitting shortstop Julio Lugo, drove in more.

"It has been a tough year," Drew said. "One of those situations [where] my expectations are high. I didn't have the year I would have liked to have."

Neither did he please the populace. Thus, the fevered callers on sports talk radio here could press speed dial and squawk their damning statistics across a six-state region. In 17 at-bats with the bases loaded, Drew managed two hits. With runners in scoring position and two outs, he hit .213. And when he didn't show any particular emotion about it, the fires grew hotter.

"If it were anybody else, any of the media here, any of the fans that have railed on him for six months in the situations he's been in," right-hander Curt Schilling said, "you wouldn't produce, because you'd be squeezing the bat. You'd be stressed. . . . He is the definition of even-keel."

When, though, would that pay off? Drew's career numbers in six postseasons, before Saturday's game, were poor: a .239 average, down to .162 with runners in scoring position.

Understandably, then, the mood at Fenway dampened significantly when two of the main cogs -- Manny Ramirez and Mike Lowell -- failed to drive in the initial run against Carmona in the first. The Red Sox loaded the bases with nobody out on two infield singles and a walk to David Ortiz. But Ramirez swung through a 3-2 pitch, and Lowell hit a short fly to right. The chance to take a lead seemed to slip away.

Carmona, though, fell behind Drew 3-1, and clearly felt he was squeezed by home plate umpire Dana DeMuth. Drew, criticized frequently for not being aggressive enough, transformed with the next pitch. Rather than working for a walk, he unleashed the beautiful left-handed swing that had scouts drooling more than a decade ago. The ball traveled on a line just to the left of straightaway center field. Presto, a 4-0 lead. The sellout crowd cheered wildly for the man they had booed so often, and when he arrived back in the dugout, "He got the [expletive] beat out of him," Schilling said.

The best beating of his brief time in Boston. Then came the curtain call.

"I've had a few of those in my career," he said. "None here so far."

With that, a summer full of boos melted away into a standing ovation, and a smile across the unflappable face at the most important time.

© 2007 The Washington Post Company