BOSTON -- At the corners of their infield, the Red Sox have two players who are gritty, steady, reliable and, perhaps most importantly, productive.
Entering their third season as a tandem, it feels as if third baseman Mike Lowell and first baseman Kevin Youkilis have been manning their posts in Boston for years.
Both players are fan favorites in the public eye and core performers on the field.
Youkilis, who was drafted by the Red Sox in the final year of the Dan Duquette administration (eighth-round pick in the 2001 First-Year Player Draft), has seen his three-syllable last name reduced to one. Throughout Red Sox Nation, he is simply known as "Youuuukkkkkkkkkk."
No player is more lovable to a Boston sports fan than the one who goes at max effort 100 percent of the time. In a nutshell, that is Youkilis.
Perhaps that explains why Youkilis flourished in October 2007 in his first go-round as a postseason starter. The playoffs are known for intensity, and so is Youkilis.
In helping the Red Sox to their second World Series championship in four seasons, Youkilis hit .388 with four homers and 10 RBIs during the postseason.
After a red-hot start to the regular season, Youkilis finished with a .288 batting average and career highs in homers (16) and RBIs (83). Per usual, he had a stellar on-base percentage (.390).
Youkilis, 28, is enough of an asset by what he does at the plate, but he's also emerged into a stud on defense. In 135 games at first base, Youkilis did not make an error, earning his first Gold Glove Award in the process. Not bad for a former third baseman.
"It's definitely quite an accomplishment, just winning a Gold Glove," Youkilis said on the day he won the award. "Coming up as a third baseman and trying to work so hard to make it as a third baseman and trying to improve on my defense there, and to step in and play first base last year. ... And now, this year, to have a great year there and win a Gold Glove means so much to me."
Over at the other corner is another man with a Gold Glove on his resume. Lowell won his defensive hardware in 2005, his last season with the Marlins. But he's continued to play that same caliber of defense in Boston, where his quick instincts, strong arm and soft hands make him a stopper at third base.
In the immediate aftermath of Boston winning the World Series, Red Sox fans who made the trip to Coors Field shouted "Re-sign Lowell" for what seemed like hours.
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A few weeks later, that demand was granted by the Red Sox. Though he could have signed a four-year deal worth more money in other places, Lowell opted to stay with Boston for three years.
That is loyalty that you don't always see in 21st-century baseball.
"I feel like I'm more of a baseball player than a businessman," Lowell said on the night he signed his new deal. "I kind of weighed where I felt comfortable, where I thought I could produce the best with the team that has a chance to win a world championship, and it was Boston. On top of that, we just won, and I think I played with a set of teammates that are unparalleled and with a manager the same way and with a fan base that's unbelievable."
After having a strong first season in Boston back in 2006, Lowell raised his game to a higher level in the championship season of '07.
As has been the case numerous times in his career, Lowell got off to a red-hot start. But this time, he kept it going the entire year. The results? A .324 batting average, 21 homers and a team-leading 120 RBIs.
In the postseason, it was more of the same, as Lowell hit .353 with two homers and 15 RBIs. He was the World Series Most Valuable Player, going 6-for-15 with a homer in four RBIs in the Sox's four-game sweep of the Rockies.
One thing manager Terry Francona seldom worries about is the availability of Youkilis or Lowell. In fact, he has to talk both players into taking rare days off so they don't wear themselves out.
When Lowell gets a day off, Youkilis typically shifts over to third base. At this point, it's unclear who Boston's backup first baseman will be. Eric Hinske performed that role in '07, but he's a free agent.
Though Alex Cora is mainly known as a middle infielder, he can also back up at third base.
Ian Browne is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.