On the last play of Wednesday afternoon’s game in Oakland, Boston Red Sox first baseman Kevin Youkilis collected a ground ball from Athletics left fielder Jack Cust and recorded the out at first unassisted; in the process, he set a new major league record for consecutive error-free games by a first baseman with 194. That mark breaks the old mark held by former big leaguer Steve Garvey, who set the mark between June 1983 and April 1985 with the San Diego Padres. Youkilis also went 2-for-4 with a double and an RBI single in Boston’s 5-0 win over Oakland.
In 2007, Youkilis broke Stuffy McInnis’s old team record of 119 games and then surpassed the old American League mark of 178 straight games by Mike Hegan. At season’s end, Youkilis not only finished with a 1.000 fielding percentage but was awarded a Gold Glove, the only Red Sox first baseman other than George “Boomer” Scott to win the award at that position. Oddly enough, Youkilis originally joined Boston as a third baseman in 2004 but transitioned to first base full-time in 2006, though he did have some minor league experience at that position.
Stuffy McInnis enjoyed a long baseball career in the early part of the 20th century; between 1909 and 1927, the Gloucester, Massachusetts native played for six teams, including the Boston Red Sox between 1918 and 1921, and was part of five World Series champions. At the plate, he finished with a .307 batting average, batting over .300 12 times in 19 seasons, and his 2,405 career hits places him just inside the top 100 all-time through the 2007 season. He also finished third all-time in sacrifice hits for a career with 383, one of only 11 players in MLB history with at least 300, and fanned only 189 times in 6,667 at-bats between 1913 and 1927, a rate of 35.3 at-bats per strikeout, ninth all-time. With Boston, McInnis batted .296 with 594 hits and only 49 strikeouts in 2,006 at-bats.
McInnis was also known a great defensive player. He originally broke in as a shortstop, but ultimately moved to first base after a few seasons. In a time known as the “dead-ball” era, first base was a key defensive position and McInnis became part of Connie Mack’s “$100,000 infield” with the Philadelphia Athletics; teaming with second baseman Eddie Collins, third baseman Frank Baker and shortstop Jack Barry between 1911 and 1914, the team won World Series titles in 1911 and 1914 and an American League pennant in 1913. In 1921, his fourth and final season with Boston, McInnis set a record for his position with only one error in 1,651 chances, good for a .999 fielding percentage. He also went a stretch of 163 games between 31 May 1921 and 02 June 1922 without making an error, the first 119 games as a Boston player while spending the latter season with the Cleveland Indians.
Those records stood until 2007 when current Red Sox first baseman Kevin Youkilis managed to go the entire year without making a single error in 1080 chances, the only player in the league to end the regular season with a perfect 1.000 fielding percentage. Youkilis also broke McInnis’s consecutive errorless games streak by a Red Sox first baseman when he lodged his 120th mistake-free contest on 25 June 2007. It should be noted that the streak continues; entering the 2008 season, he has now played 190 straight error-free games at first, a new American League record and three shy of the major league record set by former Gold Glove winner Steve Garvey.
Red Sox first baseman Kevin Youkilis strung together 135 errorless games and 1,094 errorless innings at first base during the 2007 regular season for a fielding percentage of 1.000, a feat of perfection that has been duplicated only once before in major league history. He has also played 190 consecutive errorless games in the regular season at first base, three shy of Steve Garvey’s major league record, and has easily surpassed the old Red Sox record (120 games by Stuffy McInnis) and American League record (178 games by Mike Hegan). For his efforts, American League managers and coaches last week honored the four-year veteran his first Rawlings Gold Glove award, one year after making the full-time switch from the third base position where he was raised as a professional player. He is the first Red Sox player to earn the honor since teammate Jason Varitek won the honor at the catcher’s position in 2005 and only the second Red Sox first baseman to be recognized, the other being George Scott, who won it three times between 1967 and 1971.
Since the awards were first handed out in 1957, 16 Red Sox players have captured the honor a total of 36 times. The first year the awards were given, only one award was made for both leagues, and Frank Malzone won the inaugural honor at third base. Five Boston players have won the award multiple times, with former outfielder Dwight Evans holding the team record with eight Gold Gloves won between 1976 and 1985 and Carl Yastrzemski capturing seven in his 23 seasons with the club. Nine times, the Red Sox have had more than one honoree in the same season; twice they have had three. Yastrzemski, Scott, and outfielder Reggie Smith all won at their positions in 1968 and Evans, outfielder Fred Lynn, and shortstop Rick Burleson each capture the honor in 1979. The last time the Sox had more than one winner in a single season came in 1990, when pitcher Mike Boddicker, the only Boston player to ever win a Gold Glove as a pitcher, and outfielder Ellis Burks both won. Gold Gloves have been at a premium for Boston players since averaging better than one per season between 1957 and 1985; catcher Tony Pena in 1991 had been the last Red Sox player to capture the defensive honor before Varitek ended a 14-year drought in 2005, giving the team a total of just five awards in the last 22 seasons.
Down three games to one against Cleveland, the Boston Red Sox stormed back by outscoring the Indians 30-5 over the last three games of the series to win the American League Championship in seven games and give the club its second AL pennant in four years. Series MVP and Red Sox ace pitcher Josh Beckett got the comeback started last Thursday, going eight strong and giving up just one run on five hits while striking out 11, while first baseman Kevin Youkilis opened the game with a solo home run and drove home two more runs in an impressive 7-1 win. Then, in Game Six, outfielder J.D. Drew redeemed himself from a sub-par first season in Boston by hitting a crowd-pleasing grand slam with two outs in the opening frame; the Red Sox never looked back, scoring seven runs off Fuasto Carmona in two-plus innings of work to easily win 12-2 and even the series at three games each.
In the deciding Game Seven Sunday night, Boston took a quick 3-0 lead after three but led by just one run in the seventh. Cleveland appeared to have a shot at tying the score with runners at first and third with one out but, after speedy Indians outfielder Kenny Loften was held by third-base coach Joel Skinner on what seemed like a guaranteed run-producing single by Franklin Gutierrez, Red Sox pitcher Hideki Okajima, in relief of start Daisuke Matsuzaka, got third baseman Casey Blake to ground into a 5-4-3 double play to end the threat. Rookie second baseman Dustin Pedroia then hit a two-run shot off reliever Rafael Betancourt in the bottom of the frame and helped blow the game open in the eighth with a bases-clearing double as the Red Sox took the final game by a score of 11-2. Boston now faces the National League champion Colorado Rockies in the 2007 World Series, beginning with Game One Wednesday night at Fenway Park, with a shot at winning its second title in four years after going 86 years between championships.
Thanks to a strong performance by starter Josh Beckett in Game 1, a game-winning walk-off home run by Manny Ramirez in Game 2, and back-to-back shots by David Ortiz and Ramirez coupled with a strong start by Curt Schilling in Game 3, the Boston Red Sox swept the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim in three games in their divisional series match-up and will now face either the Cleveland Indians or the New York Yankees in the American League Championship Series. This marks the third time in five years that Boston has punched its ticket for a chance to win a pennant and Boston will begin its quest Friday at home at Fenway Park. Boston has also now won nine straight games against the Angels franchise in post-season history, going back to Game 5 of the 1986 ALCS.
Boston got off to a strong start in the series with Beckett pitching a complete game shutout, his second consecutive post-season shutout after blanking the New York Yankees in the deciding game of the 2003 World Series, while Kevin Youkilis and Ortiz each hit home runs to pace the offense. In the second game, despite a shaky start by Daisuke Matsuzaka, the Red Sox and Angels were tied 3-3 in the ninth when Angels manager Mike Scioscia elected to intentionally walk Ortiz with two outs and a runner on second to get to Ramirez, but Scioscia’s move backfired when the Boston slugger drove a pitch high and deep over the Green Monster to give Boston a 2-0 series advantage heading to Anaheim. Then, in Game 3, Schilling pitched seven strong, yielding just six hits and one walk while striking out four to further build his reputation as a big-game pitcher in the post-season. Meanwhile, Ortiz and Ramirez went back-to-back in the fourth inning to give Boston all the cushion it would need, and a seven-run eighth by the visitors sealed the win and the series for Boston.
Boston’s last ALCS appearance was in 2004 against New York when the Red Sox came back from an 0-3 series deficit to win in seven games, the last two wins coming at Yankee Stadium; the team then went on to capture its first World Series championship in 86 years, sweeping the St. Louis Cardinals in four games. In franchise history, Boston has won 10 American League pennants and has won three American League Championship Series in five tries.
05 February 2004 – Ellis Burks returns to the team where he started his major league career and signs a one-year deal with Boston for the 2004 season. As a rookie in 1987, Burks combined speed and power to earn him a starting role as the everyday centerfield with the Red Sox and became just the third 20-20 player in team history (20 home runs, 20 steals in one season). However, despite continued success over the next five seasons, sporadic injuries that kept him out of the lineup for short stretches and concerns for his long-term health eventually led Boston to let him leave via free agency after the 1992 season. When healthy, Burks produced and enjoyed success in his later career with Colorado, San Francisco, and Cleveland, earning MVP considerations with the Rockies in 1996 with 40 home runs, 128 RBI, 142 runs scored, 32 stolen bases, and a batting .344 average. Although injuries continued to haunt him, relegating him to designated hitting duties for the final four years of his career, Burks continued to produce, even cracking another 32 home runs and driving in 91 RBI while batting .301 in 2002 at the age of 37.
Following his release from Cleveland after the 2003 season, Burks looked for an opportunity to play at least one more season and took Boston’s offer of $750,000 to platoon as the designated hitter. Unfortunately, his season was cut short in late April as knee surgery cost him all but 11 games during Boston’s championship run. He did make two appearances late in the season, the first being his final Fenway Park at-bat on 23 September when he appeared as a pinch hitter and produced a single, much to the delight of the home crowd. In his final appearance, the first game of a doubleheader on 02 October in Baltimore, he started as the designated hitter and went 1-for-2 with a run scored before getting lifted in favor of rookie Kevin Youkilis, Burk’s knee sore from his trip around the bases one last time. That last game also happened to be the 2,000th of his career and, less than a month later, the veteran would have the dubious honor of carrying the World Series trophy off the plane in Boston after the team captured its first title in 86 years, the only time that Burks was part of a championship team.
After 13 seasons with the Red Sox organization, free agent outfielder Trot Nixon, who was not offered arbitration by the team in December, signed a one-year deal worth $3 million to start fresh in Cleveland and will wear number 33 with the Indians. Drafted out of high school by the Red Sox in 1993, Nixon was known for his hard-nose style of play, noted by the batting helmet he often wore that was covered in dirt and pine tar; although not as flashy as some of his teammates, he earned the respect of the Boston faithful and the distinction of being one of the team’s original “Dirt Dogs.”
After two quick cups of coffee, his first full season with the Red Sox came in 1999; early on, it appeared as though he would return to the minors when he started out of the gate barely hitting above .100. However, he recovered well enough to finish with a .270 batting average, 15 home runs, and 52 RBI. In ten seasons with Boston, Nixon batted .278, hit 133 home runs, and drove in 523 runs while managing a .366 on-base percentage. He also became a master of Fenway’s often-tricky right field and managed a .984 fielding percentage in that position for most of his time in Boston.
Among his highlights with the Red Sox included a two-run home run in the top of the ninth at Yankee Stadium on 30 May 2000 in a duel between then-teammate Pedro Martinez and ex-Red Sox pitcher Roger Clemens; those two runs were the difference in an eventual 2-0 win for Boston. He also drove home the final two runs for Boston in the deciding Game Four of the 2004 World Series on a two-out double off the right field wall at Busch Stadium in St. Louis in the top of the third inning to give Boston a 3-0 lead. Those also proved to be the last runs scored by either team in that game as the Red Sox swept the Cardinals for the team’s first championship title in 86 years. For the series, Nixon batted .357 and drove in three runs after spending most of the regular season nursing injuries.
With Boston expected to announce the signing of outfielder J.D. Drew in the near future, Nixon’s departure was not unexpected, given that he would likely end up sharing a bench role with Wily Mo Pena, eight years his junior and also seen as a back-up first baseman to Kevin Youkilis.