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Bland in Boston

Drew's laid-back attitude isn't going over well with the Fenway faithful. It might have something to do with the fact that he's not hitting or that he's not Trot Nixon.

June 21, 2007|Kevin Baxter | Times Staff Writer

BOSTON — At the Red Sox team store across from Fenway Park, the Daisuke Matsuzaka T-shirts are flying off the shelves. Same thing at the shop next door, and at the store around the corner on Lansdowne Street, where the David Ortiz and Jason Varitek models also are selling well.

The J.D. Drew T-shirts? Well, not so much.

"Haven't sold too many of those," George Walters, who manages a small souvenir stand behind the third base line, said with a shake of his head.

If the Boston Red Sox were counting on merchandise sales to recoup some of the $70 million they promised the former Dodgers outfielder last winter, they're going to come up short.

Way short.

Of greater concern, however, is the fact that Drew also has failed to meet expectations on the field. Counted on to provide middle-of-the-lineup protection for sluggers Ortiz and Manny Ramirez, Drew is now batting leadoff.

Counted on to match the 20 home runs and 100 runs batted in he gave the Dodgers last year, Drew has only six homers and 30 RBIs. Light-hitting shortstop Julio Lugo, another former Dodger, has similar power numbers (four homers and 34 RBIs).

At .243, Drew is hitting 43 points below his career average coming into the season.

That has made him an easy target of Boston's famously demanding fans, who, in the last two weeks, have seen the streaking New York Yankees cut into the Red Sox's once-commanding 14 1/2 -game lead in the American League East.

"It's just one of those situations," said Drew, who homered and doubled in Wednesday's game against Atlanta but left because of tightness in his quadriceps. "I just kind of lost the feeling that I had up there at the plate. And I've been trying to battle through it."

He's hardly the only Red Sox player struggling. Ramirez went 15 games without a home run before hitting two in last weekend's sweep of the San Francisco Giants. Center fielder Coco Crisp is batting only .250. And Mike Lowell, who entered the season with the best fielding percentage by a third baseman in history, has made 12 errors.

Lately, however, Drew has shown signs of turning things around, ending an 0-for-12 drought with a three-hit game Friday. And after batting .171 in May, he hit .264 through his first 15 games in June.

Yet it was he alone who was getting booed last week.

"If you're getting booed," Manager Terry Francona said, "you're probably not hitting."

Oh, and it doesn't help when you're not Trot Nixon either.

A fiery hustler, Nixon was a fan favorite in Boston before the Red Sox let him go in the off-season -- giving his No. 7, his position in right field and nearly five times the amount of money that would have been needed to re-sign him to Drew, the anti-Nixon, whose quiet, laid-back nature is frequently misinterpreted as apathy.

"Personality-wise, they're two very different people and I don't think you can expect two guys to act the same way," Lowell said. "Those are expectations in themselves. But I think when people see his true talent, he's going to be appreciated."

Drew's even-keeled personality may be the best thing he has going for him right now. As his slump deepened, he didn't panic, instead channeling his frustration into extra batting practice. Nor has he lacked for confidence, reminding anyone who will listen that he has been here before, having struggled through an injury-plagued first season with the Dodgers when he played in a career-low 72 games, hitting 15 homers and driving in a career-low 36 runs.

"That first year is a total transition," said Drew, who faced heightened expectations in Los Angeles after signing a $55-million free-agent contract in 2004. "It becomes home the more you play there and the more you access the area and you're in the home that you have there. That was the thing with L.A. The first year just kind of felt different."

Alex Cora, another former Dodger now in Boston, said Drew's biggest adjustment is going from the National League to the American.

"They sell the same stuff in the supermarkets. And they've got good restaurants everywhere," he said. "But there's a learning period wherever you go and obviously it's more about different leagues and different pitchers.

"You try to gather information on the fly and it's not easy. The toughest part coming from another league is the relievers."

Francona can relate. He said he felt lost just trying to get to the ballpark his first spring in Boston.

"The more you are with some place, I'm sure the more you are going to get comfortable. That seems like common sense," Francona said. "When guys come to a new place, they sometimes try too hard. It's more fun not being the new guy because you know where to go. You're not acquainting yourself. You're reacquainting."

The rookie manager quickly made himself at home in Boston, guiding the Red Sox to their first World Series title in 86 years in his first season. And he says as long as Drew remains patient, he'll get better too.

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