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Drew breaks out of offensive funk

Drew breaks out of offensive funk

PHOENIX -- It was a breakout night for J.D. Drew on Friday, just when the Red Sox needed it most.

With David Ortiz at first base, Kevin Youkilis on the bench and the pitcher hitting for himself per National League rules against the Diamondbacks at Chase Field, the normally stocked Red Sox offense had to have the extra boost.

The heretofore missing-in-action Drew provided it with a pair of three-run homers, an RBI double and seven runs batted in as Boston pulverized Arizona, 10-3.

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"It was a fun night, a good night for me," Drew said. "One of those nights I've been needing to have for a long time now."

To illustrate how much Drew did need it, he came in hitting .162 (19-for-117) with no homers and nine RBIs in his previous 35 games. He hadn't homered since April 22 when the Red Sox hit four in a row against the Yankees at Fenway Park and Drew was the second batter in that sequence.

On Friday night, Drew looked more like the player the Red Sox signed to a five-year, $70 million free-agent contract this past winter.

Asked the difference in Drew's hitting approach against the D-backs, Boston manager Terry Francona said it was matter of being more patient at the plate.

"He stayed back on the ball and covered the plate," Francona said. "He's been working hard. We gave him a couple of days off to work on some things. Hopefully he stays hot, because he's an important guy in our lineup."

Important? It was the first Interleague game on the road for the Red Sox this season, leaving Francona without the designated hitter spot and too many potent offensive players to fit into the top eight lineup positions. On Friday night, the choice was benching regular first baseman Youkilis (.339, eight homers, 32 RBIs) to play Ortiz (.337, 11 homers, 42 RBIs) at first base for the first time since last June.

Mike Lowell (.313, 11 homers, 42 RBIs) started at third base, but he'll be subbed there on Saturday by Youkilis.

Asked before the game why he chose Ortiz over Youkilis, Francona looked at the questioner cross-eyed.

"[Ortiz] is like the MVP of the league right now," Francona said.

The left-handed Ortiz will rest on Sunday, though, against left-hander Randy Johnson with Lowell back at third and Youkilis at first.

What's a manager to do?

"I don't know," he said. "We have to get the pitcher in there."

And so, a .300-hitting, double-digit homer hitter was forced to the bench, while Drew, batting .224 with two homers and 17 RBIs coming into the game, was the starter in right field.

And in the most unlikely scenario, Drew, playing against his younger brother, Stephen, and in familiar surroundings, had more RBIs in a single game than any Red Sox player since 2003. And that includes Ortiz, Manny Ramirez, et al.

It was also the most RBIs Drew has ever amassed in a game. To put it in complete perspective, Drew had more homers and nearly as many RBIs on Friday evening than he's been able to put together in more than a month. Change of thought patterns, change of performance.

"One thing I've been doing is dwelling way too much on the past," Drew said. "I wanted to forget about it, push on, take it a game at a time and try to get a roll going."

It was Boston's first regular-season game ever at Chase Field, but certainly not Drew's first appearance here. His first nine seasons were all in the National League, with St. Louis, Atlanta and the Dodgers. Home and away against the D-backs, Drew was a .340 hitter with 16 homers and 45 RBIs during those years.

No coincidence, then, that his breakout game didn't come in an American League park, but in the 10-year-old stadium with the flip-top lid and huge dark green batting eye.

"It definitely feels a little bit more comfortable," Drew said. "I've been here. I've seen this place. There's always an adjustment period when you switch teams and play in places you've never been at before. And definitely, when I walked in, it was a little bit more familiar."

Whether it was the ballpark or a change in his approach, Drew couldn't have been more on the mark.

Barry M. Bloom is a national reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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