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Notes: Francona lauds unselfish Youk

Notes: Francona lauds unselfish Youk

DENVER -- Red Sox manager Terry Francona admitted being surprised by all the scrutiny that came with his decision to keep red-hot first baseman Kevin Youkilis out of the lineup for Game 3 of the World Series on Saturday. But what didn't stun him in the least is that there was no fire to put out within his own clubhouse.

Youkilis, being the unselfish and rational teammate that he is, understood why Francona would want to keep David Ortiz's lethal bat in the lineup under National League rules, in which there is no designated hitter. And Youkilis, a natural third baseman who has started only 12 games there this season, also realized that Mike Lowell is one of the best defenders in the league at that position, not to mention Boston's top RBI man this season.

"He wants to play because he likes to compete," said Francona. "It's not like I can go to the Commissioner and say, 'Look, [Youkilis] is a good player, we need to play him.' There's some trust. I think [Youkilis] knows I wish he was playing. Before the Series is over, I don't know what's going to happen. I think he has the ability to somewhat step back and look at things logically, which [other] guys can't always do. I wish he was playing. You're talking about David Ortiz and Mike Lowell. It's not like he's been benched. We're playing by the system."

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Fact of the matter is, Ortiz, Lowell and Youkilis are three key bats for Francona. But by playing Ortiz at first and Youkilis at third, Francona would be exposing himself more at the corners defensively than he'd like.

"[Youkilis] is a better first baseman and the guy that's playing third is Gold Glove-caliber," Francona said. "All of a sudden, you have two positions where guys haven't been out there. Youk played maybe a handful [of games at third], whatever it was. And David has a real small handful."

A Gold Glove candidate himself at first base, Youkilis didn't make an error there in 135 games. But he made three errors in his 12 starts at third.

If anything, Youkilis seems more likely to supplant Ortiz at first than to replace Lowell at third, should he get a start during the three games at Coors Field. Ortiz's balky right knee will determine whether he starts in Game 4 on Sunday and Game 5 on Monday (if necessary).

"I guess maybe people were expecting this to be an issue [with Youkilis], and never once did it enter my mind that it could be an issue," Francona said. "I wish that we could play under different rules, but we can't, so we'll do the best we can, and our players understand that."

Look for Youkilis to play at least two innings at first base on nights the Red Sox have a lead.

"And if something goes wrong late in the game and they tie it, it's not like we've put in a guy who's a defensive replacement," Francona said. "He's one of the better hitters, I think, in the game. Hopefully it works the way we drew it up."

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Youkilis entered Game 3 hitting .396 with four homers and 10 RBIs in the postseason. Lowell was at .333 with a homer and 12 RBIs. Ortiz came in hitting .385 with three homers and eight RBIs.

Drew settling in: Year 1 in Boston has been a tough one for J.D. Drew, who hit just 11 homers and had 64 RBIs while earning $14 million. But Drew is trying to develop some momentum heading into 2008. After hitting .364 in the American League Championship Series, Drew had four hits in his first seven at-bats of the World Series.

Will this help him get the Fenway faithful more on his side next year?

"Well, his relationship with the people in Boston -- again, he's not running for mayor," said Francona. "We want him to help us win. It was a little inconsistent at times, and the production wasn't always there. There's a lot of different reasons for that. And sometimes that happens. We could have run away from him or we could stay patient. I think the patience is paying off. He's been a really good player."

Oki rejuvenated: Never has the decision to shut down Hideki Okajima for nearly two weeks in September looked better than in this postseason, where the left-hander has looked completely rejuvenated.

In six appearances this October, Okajima hasn't allowed a run. Over 9 2/3 innings, he has nine strikeouts.

"If we didn't shut him down, we weren't going to get the quality pitches we wanted," Francona said. "You always know that if you want to get to where you want to go, you're going to have to lean on somebody at some point like we did the other night."

Coors is still earth: Maybe too much is being made of the vast outfield dimensions of Coors Field.

"This is Denver, it's not Mars," said Francona. "It's a big outfield. I think the problem would be if we had guys who couldn't run. It's a pretty spacious outfield."

Francona is confident that Jacoby Ellsbury and Drew can track balls down. And in the late innings of a close game, look for Francona to put Coco Crisp in center while moving Ellsbury to left in place of Manny Ramirez.

Francona endorses Mills: Red Sox pitching coach John Farrell has been rumored as a potential front-runner for the vacant managerial job in Pittsburgh. Francona wonders why his longtime lieutenant and friend -- bench coach Brad Mills -- doesn't get more consideration when openings pop up.

"I am surprised," Francona said. "I don't understand it. It's kind of one of those situations where you hate to lose somebody, but, for their career or their wants or desires, you'd like to see them at least get an opportunity. I think there's some organizations that are maybe missing out on a guy that could make a difference, because he does that every day here."

A day to remember: When the Red Sox took the field for Game 3 of the World Series, they were doing so on perhaps the most significant date in club history.

On Oct. 27, 2004, the Red Sox clinched their World Series victory in St. Louis, ending an 86-year championship drought in the process.

Ian Browne is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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