Just like Stephen Drew drew it up
After slow start, shortstop is thriving in Boston, endearing himself to Sox nation
BOSTON -- This might come as a surprise, but Red Sox shortstop Stephen Drew had zero interest in drinking the Carl Crawford Kool-Aid (three scoops Boston hate, two scoops self-pity, one scoop delusion, add toxic water, stir) during the team's visit to Los Angeles last weekend.
Drew has been anything but the People's Choice since he was signed last winter to a one-year, $9 million free agent contract, and not exactly championed by a media enchanted by the defensive wizardry of Jose Iglesias.
There was the "brother thing" to overcome as well. Many folks suspecting that if older brother J.D. exhaled on a clubhouse mirror, condensation would not appear. J.D.'s considerable skill set was negated, in the view of plenty, by the absence of a pulse.
And when Stephen was sidelined early in camp by a concussion that looked so innocuous when it happened, even manager John Farrell thought it a trifle, there was a here-we-go-again aspect to his absence from the lineup, especially when it carried beyond the start of the season.
So Drew the Younger did not exactly need to search for reasons to feel hostile toward his new surroundings. But that hasn't been the case, he insists.
"Do I like it here? I love it," Drew says. "This is what I thought it would be when I came over. It's a great baseball town. It's fun to be part of this team."
The fun grew exponentially after Drew returned on July 20 from his second stint on the disabled list, this one for a strained hamstring that cost him 16 games. It took him about a week to gain his bearings, but since a three-hit, two-homer, five-RBI game in Baltimore on July 27, Drew has the highest OPS of any shortstop in the big leagues, posting a slash line in his last 28 games of .301/.378/.515/.893 entering play Wednesday night, just ahead of Colorado's Troy Tulowitzki.
After losing nearly two seasons to a hideous ankle injury in Arizona that involved a recovery so long that Diamondbacks owner Ken Kendrick publicly questioned Drew's desire to return, the 30-year-old shortstop is playing some of the best baseball of his career, on both sides of the ball.
In Wednesday night's 4-3 win over the Orioles, Drew walked and scored in the third, then touched off Boston's game-tying rally with a double in the seventh. He also was walked intentionally just before Mike Carp's game-winning single in the eighth.
Crowd around his locker? No, he slipped on a T-shirt and shorts, and headed out the door.
"I really do thank God," he said the other day. "I think it's a miracle almost, that I can still play this game. What I went through in Arizona, and all that stuff with the ownership there, it was time to go. It's kind of unfortunate because I had some really good years there, but if I was still playing there I wouldn't be playing here, so everything happens for a reason. The main thing for me now is that I can still play the game."
And while Drew's play afield lacks the flash of the gifted Iglesias, he would have it no other way. He has made just six errors all seasons.
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"Iggy definitely has that ability," Drew said. "It's not to say I couldn't do some of the stuff he does. I just don't do it. I'm not that player. You look at Pedey [Dustin Pedroia], he's the same way. We're two guys that make the plays. Make the tough plays look easy, and make the routine plays.
"I think it's been fun to be part of this infield, everybody kind of knowing each other's range and whatnot, makes things a lot easier."
There was nothing easy about the way the season started for Drew. Iglesias opened the season at short with Drew sidelined by the concussion, incurred when he was hit by a pitch in early March.
"It's unfortunate I missed spring training with the darn concussion," he said. "Just ask David [Ross, another concussion victim], it's not fun. It's one of those things that throw you for a loop, and it really did.
"I didn't think I was that messed up, but I had to somehow try to find a way to get back in the game. I don't even know the terminology for what I had, but everything was basically too slow. The movements, everything, trying to pick up balls, whatever, just threw me for a loop.
"To make a long story short, my first month when I came back was my spring training."
Drew batted .154 in his first 16 games, and the groundswell for Iglesias grew stronger. Drew hit .244 in May, but then Iglesias returned from the minors in late May and morphed into a .400 hitter. There might have been a palace revolt to install Iglesias at short if the third baseman, Will Middlebrooks, hadn't slumped, and Iglesias slid seamlessly into his place.
Through it all, however, Drew continued to play consistently excellent defense, his throws like a metronome regardless from where they were launched, hitting the first baseman's glove chest-high almost without fail.
"I think it was instilled in me by my two older brothers yelling at me to hit [them] in the chest all the time," Drew said, alluding to older brothers J.D. and Tim, both of whom were first-round draft choices who preceded him to the majors.
"With two older brothers making my career what it is made things easier to understand," he said. "But at the end of the day you're still your own person. I see that now.
"I'm different from J.D. It's not a bad thing, but we're totally different. J.D. had a really good talent. People sometimes don't see that because he's so quiet. He had a really good swing. That's how I learned to hit left-handed; by watching him, I learned to switch-hit. Then I gave up switch-hitting in high school and stuck to hitting left. That's what got me to this point."
And now, in the season's second half, the bat has come.
"The second half has been gratifying to me," he said. "I know this is what I can do. Everyone's been real positive with me. They see I'm not going to go out and try to advertise myself. I'm a real quiet guy, going about my business."
The one-year deal Drew signed with the Red Sox is what is commonly called a "pillow contract" -- a soft landing in Boston for good money ($9 million) while he re-established his market value. His agent, Scott Boras, worked a similar deal for another client, Adrian Beltre, who parlayed his comeback year in Boston into a fat multi-year deal with Texas.
Drew could well have a similar future, on a lesser scale, although last weekend in L.A., Boras suggested that the Red Sox might be wise to retain Drew, even if it means moving Xander Bogaerts to third and Middlebrooks across the diamond to first base.
"I don't think about that 'til the end of the year, when I'm sitting down at the house and have time to think about it," Drew said.
"But at the same time I've really enjoyed this year. We'll see what happens at the end of the year.
"It's been fine here. It's a baseball town. When you're bad, you're bad, you're good, you're good. That's just the way it is here. The 25 guys we've got in this clubhouse, the guys that are around, have made it a fun year for me."
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