Drew wins over fans with big Game 6

Drew wins over fans with big Game 6

BOSTON -- It must have been an odd feeling for J.D. Drew. After he ducked back inside Boston's dugout during the first inning, the fans inside Fenway Park continued to stand, begging for a curtain call.

For much of the season, there were plenty of members of Red Sox Nation who would've probably been fine if Drew never left the bench. Drew found a way to change the persistent boos into overwhelming cheers on Saturday night, when he stunned Cleveland with a grand slam in the first that helped send Boston on its way to a 12-2 win in Game 6 of the American League Championship Series.

Drew looked like he had even surprised himself, offering a slight fist pump after watching the baseball he smashed barely clear the wall in deep center field. So shortly after crossing the plate and joining his team in the dugout, Drew jogged back up the steps and appeased the buzzing crowd by throwing his arms into the air.

"I've had a few of those in my career. None here so far," Drew said. "It was great. I think the atmosphere was great. It has been a tough year."

All of Drew's woes in his first season with the Red Sox were forgotten during Game 6, when Boston received a much-needed boost from some unexpected sources. The biggest contributor was Drew, who provided a glimpse into why the Red Sox rewarded him with a five-year contract worth $70 million in January to be their right fielder.

With Boston's season hanging in the balance, Drew went 3-for-5 and drove in five runs -- one of only two times this year that he's knocked in more than three in a game. Four of those came with one first-inning swing, which sent a 3-1 offering from Indians starter Fausto Carmona rocketing over the fence for his first home run of the playoffs.

Drew's grand slam was the third such blast in Boston's postseason history. The last came three years ago to the day, on Oct. 20, 2004, when Johnny Damon helped propel the Red Sox to a Game 7 win over the Yankees in the ALCS. That sent Boston to its first World Series win since 1918 -- a Fall Classic the Red Sox captured in four games over St. Louis.

"He was just patient and crushed his pitch," Boston third baseman Mike Lowell said about Drew. "I think he got a great ovation, one he really deserved. He didn't stop there and put together a great day. We need him."

Prior to Drew's damaging blow, the Indians appeared to be on the verge of escaping the bases-loaded jam. Dustin Pedroia and Kevin Youkilis led off the first inning with consecutive infield singles, and Carmona loaded the bases by walking David Ortiz. Cleveland's starter followed by striking out Manny Ramirez and inducing a flyout off the bat of Lowell to come within one out of ending the threat.

"In that situation right there, you couldn't have asked for anything any better," Drew said. "It just was one of those situations where I was very relaxed going into the at-bat -- realized we had two outs and didn't really want to walk off the field without any runs."

They walked off with four, and the Red Sox upped that total to 10 runs in the third inning, when Drew added an RBI single.

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"I was happy that we won," Boston manager Terry Francona said. "J.D. certainly played a big part in it. We get the bases loaded off one of the best pitchers in the game, [then Carmona] makes great pitches to Manny, Mikey Lowell flies out to right and he got a chance to wiggle out of it. One pitch later, we've got four on the board. That was huge."

It was undoubtedly huge for Boston, but it was even bigger for Drew. After belting 20 homers and driving in 100 runs for the Dodgers in 2006, Drew hit .270 with 11 homers and just 64 RBIs in 140 games with the Sox this year. Needless to say, he faced plenty of criticism throughout this season.

"I'm sure he's not real proud of the year he had," Red Sox starter Curt Schilling said. "But if it were anybody else, any of you, any of the media here, any of the fans that have railed on him for six months in the situations he's been in, you wouldn't produce, because you'd be squeezing the bat. You'd be stressed."

"Changes are hard, man," Red Sox shortstop Julio Lugo agreed. "You're in the spotlight here every day. But it's like I keep saying, it doesn't matter what happened in the rest of the season or what happened yesterday. It's right now what counts."

Like Drew, Lugo shook off some recent struggles to help Boston to its latest victory. Lugo entered the game with a .167 average over the first five games of the ALCS, but he went 1-for-4 with a two-run double in the third inning. The Red Sox also received an RBI single from Jacoby Ellsbury, who started in place of struggling center fielder Coco Crisp.

"It feels good, man," Lugo said. "It feels good when you get a hit and do something good for your team. I'm feeling better and better. Everything that happened before doesn't matter."

That echoed the feeling around the stands at Fenway Park, where the fans put Drew's season-long issues aside to offer him a proper thank you. A grand slam that helps put Boston one win away from reaching the World Series can do wonders.

"This is not an easy place to not do well," Francona said, "especially when you're coming in with some of the fanfare that J.D. came in with. But he wants to drive in five again tomorrow."

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