At the end of the day, Kevin Youkilis enjoyed the game.

At the end of the day, Kevin Youkilis enjoyed the game.

Kevin Youkilis had a temper.

That much was obvious enough when he nearly got into a brawl in the dugout with Manny Ramirez in 2008, or when he charged the mound and threw his helmet after being hit by Detroit’s Rick Porcello in 2009. He was fiery and pissed off and sometimes mean about his at-bats. He grimaced and sweat and dug in for every pitch he could possibly see. In 292 at-bats, he saw a 3-0 count and never once swung the bat at the next pitch. He was in for more and not looking to cheat himself out of a possible hit.

That’s the general picture of Kevin Youkilis, the baseball player, I have in my head. But for specific memories, I usually zoom in on a more genial one that showed Kevin Youkilis, the guy who got his kicks playing a kids’ game.

The Mets were in Boston to face the Red Sox on a Friday night. About 3,000 miles away, I was sitting in R.T. O’Sullivan’s in Mesa, Ariz., with friends to watch the game — the 4 p.m. start always meant an excuse to head out of work a little early for happy hour, plenty of appetizers and a taste of home via the Sox.

In the fifth inning, Johan Santana pitched inside to Youkilis and clipped him on the elbow. Youkilis dropped the bat, grabbed his arm, and walking towards first base with a smile, he let Santana know what he thought:

“Shit, man. That hurt!” (more…)

giants-bumgarner-worldseries

I feel like I’ve been droning on about Madison Bumgarner in faux poetry for days now, but after racking my brain for all the other fantastic pitching performances I’ve seen in October and otherwise — Tom Glavine, John Smoltz, Randy Johnson, Curt Schilling, Pedro Martinez, Josh Beckett, C.C. Sabathia, Cliff Lee, Chris Carpenter — nothing compares to what this guy has pulled off.

What he accomplished in just this World Series is legendary, and just by the numbers. In three games, he threw 21 innings, gave up one run, one walk, struck out 17 and kept his ERA to 0.43 en route to two wins and his incredible five-inning save in Game 7. Factor in his entire World Series career, and the numbers get even more ridiculous: a 0.25 ERA, still only one run, five walks and 31 strikeouts over 36 high-intensity innings.

The numbers are for the historians and analysts, who will take into account the era in which Bumgarner pitched — one of pitch counts and controlled innings and proper rest between appearances — and place him among the greats like Christy Mathewson, Walter Johnson and Sandy Koufax.

But we watched this in real time. We saw Bumgarner carry the Giants through the Wild Card game, control the Cardinals in the NLCS and then dominate the Kansas City Royals with ease in Game 1. He topped himself in front of a home crowd in Game 5, shutting them out and finishing what he started. And then, after a shaky start to his first batter, with just two days of rest after throwing those nine innings, he settled down, firing nails into the championship dreams of every Kansas City Royals player, coach and fan. (more…)

Madison Bumgarner made his mark immediately as a rookie.

Madison Bumgarner made his mark immediately as a rookie.

Why is the World Series such a great event? One reason is that, every year, without fail, someone seizes control of his own destiny and makes the most of the chance. Last night, that was Madison Bumgarner.

Watching Bumgarner meticulously pick apart the Royals for nine innings in his last start of the season was one of those coronation-type moments. The reality and depth of his October career have already been established — he beat the Rangers as a 21-year-old in the 2010 World Series and has just gotten better from there. But this season has cemented him in that higher plane of October warriors, starting with his dismantling of the Pirates in the Wild Card game and right through to last night’s Game 5, pushing the Giants to the brink of another World Series trophy. (more…)

This was Paul Konerko's last summer with the White Sox.

This was Paul Konerko’s last summer with the White Sox.

It’s unseasonably warm today. As September crawls to a close and gets ready to give way to October, it’s 84 degrees in Boston, t-shirt weather that seems more appropriate for at least a month earlier.

It’s been a weird summer that way. After a brutal winter that practically wiped out spring until mid-May, there were fewer brutally hot days than New England is used to, but all the same, the summer seemed to whip by. And what started with so much hope and ramped-up expectations quickly gave way to a different kind of hope, one directed towards the future and peppered with attempts to find the good as the chaos reigned for so long.

A season that started with the Red Sox as World Series champions, with Derek Jeter in New York and Paul Konerko in Chicago and Adam Dunn bashing home runs indiscriminately ends today with none of those things happening. The Sox fell apart and traded away a number of players who were so important to a championship a year ago — Jon Lester, Jake Peavy, John Lackey, Jonny Gomes and Stephen Drew among them. Jeter’s bat went into hiding with his already AWOL glove, but he kept his spot near the top of the order all year as the Yankees missed the playoffs again. Konerko went quiet, too, but he gave way to his successor, Jose Abreu. (more…)

Jon Lester, bearing down, as usual.

Jon Lester, bearing down, as usual.

In the midst of a last-place tenure, fans have two things to fall back on: enjoying the game that day in a vacuum, and dreaming about a better future.

The Boston Red Sox in the midst of a doomed season have done their part to drum up at least some excitement to days ahead, playing rookies and letting fans wonder about the talent percolating in Pawtucket and Portlant. While 2014 is doomed, maybe there’s a light in 2015.

That mindset doesn’t mesh well with sentimentality, though, where Jon Lester, the team’s ace, is concerned. It looks increasingly likely that he won’t be in the 2015 team photo. He might not even make it to Friday, which is tough to swallow for those who have watched him develop for the past nine seasons. (more…)