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Sunday, October 6, 2013
Stephen Drew a down-to-earth fit

By Gordon Edes
ESPNBoston.com

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. -- His brother calls him "Dirt." His teammates call him "Dirt," too. His brother's kids? "They call me 'Uncle Dirt,''' he says.

How about his own kids?

"They call me Daddy,'' Stephen Drew says. "That's the difference.''

Stephen Drew
After J.D. Drew helped the Red Sox in their last World Series run, kid brother Stephen has plenty of fans in the Red Sox clubhouse.
J.D. Drew's kids will have to settle for watching "Uncle Dirt" on TV for the time being. J.D.'s wife, Sheigh, is expecting the couple's fourth child, so big brother won't be coming here with the family to see his kid brother play shortstop with the same guys he once called teammates not so long ago. David Ortiz, Dustin Pedroia, Jacoby Ellsbury and Jon Lester were there in 2007 when J.D. Drew's grand slam in the ALCS against Cleveland helped send the Red Sox to the World Series and a second round of championship rings.

Now, Stephen Drew, a one-year rental of uncertain value when he signed with Boston last winter, is doing his own part to advance the Sox toward a third title in a decade, this after 86 years without one. The Red Sox won the first two games of their best-of-five American League Division Series against the Tampa Bay Rays, with a chance to close out the Rays Monday night at Tropicana Field.

Drew hustled his way to an infield hit in Game 1 that had a galvanizing effect when Jonny Gomes scored from second on the play. In Game 2, he slammed a triple off Rays ace David Price, against whom he'd been 0-for-11 in his career, and was the middleman on two huge double plays that squashed Rays rallies in the late innings.

The brothers are both raising their families in the same small town in Georgia -- Hahira -- where they grew up. So, of course, they talk.

"Yeah, I talked to him just the other day, just kind of chatting and seeing how he's doing and stuff,'' Stephen said. "The good thing with J.D., he's going to let me enjoy this. That's pretty neat. Being over here, people tried to compare me with him, but I was my own self, and people saw that. It's been good. I've enjoyed it here. It's the best team I've ever been a part of.''

J.D. was still starring at Florida State and Stephen was the little brother just hanging around when "Dirt" was born. Actually, it started as "Sod," a nickname of Stephen's own invention. "I took my initials -- Stephen Oris Drew -- and came up with Sod,'' he said.

Jonathan Johnson, a Seminoles teammate, came up with the derivative, and all these years later, it's still a keeper, even through tours with three big league teams -- the Diamondbacks, the Athletics and now the Red Sox. Truth be told, Stephen likes it that way.

"It's pretty neat -- unique,'' he says. "If somebody calls me "Dirt," I figure it's somebody who knows me.'' How did the nickname surface here?

"They knew because J.D. always called me that,'' Drew said. "Still does.''

So Stephen arrived in Boston already with a handle. But how he would fit on this team was an uncertain proposition. He was coming off a difficult and prolonged recovery from a gruesome ankle injury sustained in 2011, so prolonged -- 11 months -- that the owner of the Diamondbacks publicly castigated him for not playing, an outburst that was followed soon by a trade to the Athletics.

Even then, Drew says, he might have come back too soon, and arriving in Fort Myers, Fla., in February, he needed to prove to himself that he could regain the form that had made him one of the National League's better shortstops for his first five seasons in Arizona, the form that made him a No. 1 draft pick in 2004.

"After the injury, I didn't know,'' he said. "Did I lose a step? It was an unfortunate injury, but praise God, I'm still playing. That could have ended my career. That's the way I look at it.''

Eager to prove he was fully recovered, Drew encountered another setback in spring training when he was hit by a pitch and developed concussive symptoms that shut him down through the start of the season. In the interim, Cuban prospect Jose Iglesias enjoyed a wonderful spring, opened the season with the big club and got off to such a hot start, it became part of the daily conversation in New England whether the Sox even needed Drew.

That was never the way manager John Farrell saw it. He was consistent all spring with his declaration that Drew would be his everyday shortstop when he was healthy, and he stuck by that pledge, even when Drew got off to a slow start by batting .211 as late as May 31, even as Iglesias improbably kept his average above .400.

When he was sidelined again in late June with a hamstring injury, the pro-Iglesias lobby grew even stronger, although the Sox ended that discussion with their trading-deadline deal of Iglesias to the Detroit Tigers as part of the deal in which the White Sox sent Jake Peavy to the Red Sox, Peavy is in line to start Tuesday's Game 4 should the Rays win Monday.

Through it all, Drew maintained a low profile. That's always held him in good stead, he said.

"Looking back over my career,'' he said, "when you can stay even-keel, go about your business and trust yourself, I think it pays off. Look at John [Farrell]. He trusted me, and over time, I think it worked out.''

Drew made just eight errors at short, and while he operates in a different realm from the spectacular Iglesias, his consistency has won him many fans on the Sox pitching staff.

"You don't know what a difference it makes,'' Lester says, "when you know that the plays will be made behind you. Stephen made every routine play and a lot of plays that weren't routine, too.''

And with his health much improved, Drew's bat came around in the season's second half. From July 27 on, he batted .292 with 8 home runs, 15 doubles and 2 triples, and his slugging percentage (.513) and OPS (.879) were the highest among all major league shortstops.

"I feel good,'' the 30-year-old Drew said. "This second half, I felt great. I finally got my rhythm, I see the ball well and, hopefully, you don't miss your pitch. That's your main goal -- don't miss your pitch.''

Given the often-harsh treatment his older brother received while he was in Boston, there was some question how Stephen would adapt. It's been answered.

"Like I said, this is the best team I've ever been a part of,'' he said. "It's been a lot of fun.

"A lot of people questioned my ability to play shortstop. I never questioned it. The 25 guys in this clubhouse, they know. It doesn't matter who else knows as long as they do.''

Sheigh Drew could have her baby any time now, Stephen said. A boy is expected. Any chance there will be another "Dirt" in the family?

"No," Stephen said with a laugh, "they can't steal the name.''