David Lennon is an award-winning columnist and author who has been a staff writer at Newsday since 1991.
Terry Francona remembered what it was like when Kevin Youkilis arrived at Fenway Park from Triple-A Pawtucket. For all his patience at the plate, the young Youkilis wasn't the best at coping with failure.
"It got to the point where he was throwing a lot of helmets,'' the Indians manager said before Wednesday night's game at Progressive Field was postponed by rain. "And we were trying to get him to calm down. Then we kind of realized that we were taking away what made him good. So we just learned to get out of the way.''
Youkilis has kept the helmet safely on his head since joining the Yankees, and for good reason. He is batting .367 (11-for-30) with two homers, six RBIs and a superior .441 on-base percentage. Youkilis also is the first Yankee to hit safely in the team's first eight games since Bob Watson did it in 1980, according to the Elias Sports Bureau.
Francona knows Youkilis better than most, and the only surprising thing to him is the uniform he's wearing. Together in Boston, the two had fierce battles with the Yankees, and the Red Sox won a pair of World Series rings during that time. When Francona was let go after the 2011 season, it didn't take long for the Red Sox to dump Youkilis as well -- at Bobby Valentine's urging -- by trading him to the White Sox.
"He does look funny in that uniform,'' Francona said. "It's still hard to picture him in that.''
The colors might be strange, but it's been a perfect fit for Youkilis, whose seamless transition has been critical to the Yankees' climb to 4-4. Francona was the main reason Youkilis nearly signed with the Indians. But that bond wasn't enough to sway him from a shot at the World Series, and he believed he had the best chance in the Bronx.
Still does, too, despite the baseball gods flipping the script on Youkilis shortly after he signed with the Yankees. Initially, Youkilis believed he was taking over for Alex Rodriguez. Three months later, Youkilis became one of the last veterans standing after freak injuries to Curtis Granderson and Mark Teixeira.
That vaulted him from the Yankees' potential No. 6 hitter to now anchored at No. 3 as the strongest protection for an out-of-place Robinson Cano. And Youkilis hasn't blinked. When asked about making a decision based on one set of circumstances and then being stuck in a completely different situation, Youkilis reacts as if it's something that never has even crossed his mind.
"We have a lot of professionals here that know what they're doing,'' Youkilis said. "That always helps.''
None more so than Youkilis, an obvious choice for Brian Cashman once the Yankees learned of A-Rod's need for hip surgery and its lengthy rehab.
Coming from Boston, he already knew the drill -- the relentless media scrutiny, the circus atmosphere. Youkilis caused a mini-storm of his own by declaring he'd "always be a Red Sock'' within hours of first showing up at Steinbrenner Field. But that's just who Youkilis is.
He has changed uniforms, but stayed the same.
"I do what I know how to do best,'' Youkilis said. "And that's just play baseball. That's it. That's all that matters.''
Joe Girardi watched Youkilis get drilled in the shoulder Tuesday by Carlos Carrasco and then saw him homer in the next at-bat off Brett Myers. To Girardi, it looked like another day at the office for his third baseman. His former manager agrees.
"He plays every inning like it's his last,'' Francona said.
The Yankees hope Youkilis has a few more left in him.