Kevin Youkilis doesn’t see himself as an American League MVP candidate and isn’t paying too much attention to the chatter that has recently started to throw his name into the mix.
The Boston Red Sox cleanup hitter has his sights clearly set on helping the defending World Series champions get back into the playoffs.
Boston led the wild-card race by a game over Minnesota entering the final week of August, thanks in large part to a breakthrough season from their first baseman, who had already set career highs with 24 home runs and 89 runs batted in, with five weeks still left to play.
The starting first baseman at this year’s All-Star game was tied with teammate Dustin Pedroia for third in the league, hitting .318, was tied for ninth with 34 doubles and ranked fifth with a .568 slugging percentage. He also ranked among the league leaders with 62 extra-base hits and a .383 on-base percentage.
His key offensive contributions have kept the Red Sox in the hunt for post-season play in a year in which they lost designated hitter David Ortiz for nearly two months with a left wrist injury, third baseman Mike Lowell to a pair of stints on the disabled list, and traded their big bopper, Manny Ramirez, to the Dodgers.
“As you mature in age and in this game you have to keep trying to get better and learning and I think I have been,” Youkilis said prior to a recent series in Toronto, where he made his major-league debut four years ago, homering off of Pat Hentgen in his second career at-bat.
“My family, fiancée [Enza Sambataro] and her son Michael are more than half the reason I am doing well. Having a backbone, people to love me through the hard times and good times. That is probably the greatest thing I have.”
The Red Sox’s eighth round draft pick in 2001, Youkilis has also excelled defensively the past couple of seasons, winning a gold glove last year with a perfect 1.000 fielding percentage at first base and setting a major-league record for most consecutive error-less games at the position.
An unassisted game-ending put-out on April 2 broke Steve Garvey’s record of 193 games. The streak, which started July 4, 2006 ended at 238 games on June 7 against Seattle.
A third baseman when he arrived in the big leagues, Youkilis took over at first base at the start of the 2006 season. He did make three errors at the hot corner in 2007.
But he said it’s great to look back on the streak and he takes a lot of pride in what he accomplished.
“I still can’t believe I didn’t make one error,” he said. “I was very fortunate. It was an unbelievable year.
“You get one bad hop, the ball might hit you funny or kick the wrong way, you can make an error that easy. The key was doing repetition, trying to position yourself in the right way.”
The 29-year-old Cincinnati native was raised in a conservative Jewish home and had a bar mitzvah, while also attending Hebrew school. He said he tries to be a better person by doing charitable work and being a family man.
Last fall, Youkilis launched his charity, Hits for Kids, an organization that funds underprivileged children in the New England area.
Following last year’s World Series victory, he shaved his goatee in exchange for a $5,000 donation by Gillette to his foundation.
His charity wine, SauvignYoooouuuk Blanc, a California Sauvignon Blanc, came out earlier this year and supports Hits for Kids.