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Youk filled big shoes for Aaron nod

Youk filled big shoes for Aaron nod

Just think of the way the Red Sox have lost production this year. Manny Ramirez -- first disenchanted and then traded. David Ortiz, the renowned big bopper, missed seven weeks with a left wrist injury. Mike Lowell, the World Series MVP, served two stints on the disabled list and remains hobbled.

Through it all, Kevin Youkilis -- a complementary piece of the offense in the past -- has turned into his team's most consistent source of production. All year, Youkilis has hit for average and power, keeping the Red Sox on pace to qualify for the postseason for the fifth time in six years.

So it is with good reason that Youkilis is the Red Sox's nominee for the Hank Aaron Award presented by Sharp, which is awarded annual to the best overall offensive performer in each league.

Fans can vote until Oct. 12 to select the winner in each league. The winners will be announced prior to Game 4 of the World Series on Oct. 26. Last year's winners were Yankees third baseman Alex Rodriguez and Brewers first baseman Prince Fielder. Originated in 1999 to honor the 25th anniversary of Hank Aaron breaking Babe Ruth's all-time home run record, the Hank Aaron Award was the first major award to be introduced in 30 years.

Youkilis, who isn't much for talking about himself, has a hard time elaborating on why he has topped 20 homers and 100 RBIs for the first time in his career. It also appears as if Youkilis will hit .300 or higher, easily topping his career high of .288 set last year.

"It's baseball," said Youkilis. "There's no formula to it. There's years you have good years and years that you struggle a little bit. It seems like everyone has their own ideas and opinions. It's a crazy game. There's guys that have bad years that are great players. It just happens. For me, I've been very fortunate to be on the other side of the spectrum this year, having a good year."

Youkilis has always been known for his plate discipline. This season, he's been slightly more aggressive, which is one reason for the boost in homers and RBIs.

Once Ramirez was dealt to the Dodgers, Youkilis became the new cleanup man.

"He's doing it man, he's doing it," said Ortiz. "We definitely needed some offense. Manny is gone now. Me and Manny have pretty much been the guys stepping up every year. We needed somebody else to get it done like that."

Youkilis thinks that part of his breakout is due to natural evolution.

"I'm getting better results, but I just think, as you get older, you try to get better and you try to learn from your mistakes in the past and that's what I'm trying to do," said the 29-year-old Youkilis. "Just grow as a player. For me, I'm having more success. But for me, I don't change anything. I just go out and try to be the same player. I'm having better success than I've had in the past. I can't pinpoint it as much as maybe just taking good swings at good pitches and just having better success with some pitches up in the zone maybe."

Boston's other invaluable offensive force this season -- second baseman Dustin Pedroia -- has enjoyed watching Youkilis go to work.

"He's been great all year long," said Pedroia. "He's been fun to watch. Hopefully it continues. He's been the biggest part of our offense all season long. That's great. He's getting two, three hits a game, driving in runs, hitting home runs. He's been outstanding."

The only Major League manager Youkilis has played for is Terry Francona. What does Francona think is the reason for such a superb season from Youkilis?

"I think there's different reasons," said Francona. "He was hurt, he was banged up [in '06 and '07]. I think, mentally, he knows how to handle a Major League season now. He's always going to be emotional after an at-bat, but it's not like he was. I think he kind of wore himself down a little bit. I don't see him doing that right now."

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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