ST. PETERSBURG — J.D. Drew was sitting by his corner locker talking on a cell phone when he saw the throng of national media entering the Red Sox clubhouse Friday afternoon. He promptly ducked into the training room and didn't come out until the media left 45 minutes later.
But Drew, known for his soft-spoken ways, already had done plenty of talking late the night before at Fenway Park, most of it with his bat.
His two-run, eighth-inning shot into the rightfield stands cut Boston's Game 5 deficit to 7-6. And his two-out single over Rays rightfielder Gabe Gross in the ninth scored Kevin Youkilis and gave the Sox renewed life in the ALCS with an 8-7 comeback win.
It was a memorable performance by a player who carried his team in June, when slugger David Ortiz was sidelined. He hit .337 (31-for-92) with 12 homers and a league-high 29 RBIs, earning AL player of the month honors — only to then miss six weeks with an injured back that threatened his participation in postseason play.
Two weeks ago in Anaheim, the former Florida State All-American signaled he was finally finding his rhythm again. His two-run homer in the ninth inning of Game 2 gave Boston a 2-0 lead over the Angels in the best-of-five division series. Then came Thursday night's effort on the heels of Ortiz's three-run blast in the seventh that cut Tampa Bay's once-commanding 7-0 lead to 7-4.
"We were in a situation where we needed some runs in a big way, and Papi was able to get a huge home run and give us some run support there," Drew said in a postgame news conference. "(I was) just in a situation where we're trying to get a ball in the zone, trying to get a rhythm going. Missing six weeks of the season, I've found myself in a little bit of a bad rhythm but trying to work through it.''
The 32-year-old rightfielder, whose homer came against Dan Wheeler and single off J.P. Howell, said he was simply waiting for a ball in the middle of the plate in each at-bat. On the winner, Drew knew he hit the ball well at Gross — "well enough to get it over his head. But (it's) so deep in rightfield here, I didn't know if he would catch it or not."
"J.D.'s a great player, and I think missing six weeks threw off his timing," Red Sox second baseman Dustin Pedroia said. "But when he gets hot, it makes our offense explosive. And you saw that (Thursday) night."
"When David got hurt, that was probably J.D.'s best month as a major-league player," manager Terry Francona said.
Drew has batted .284 in 11 big-league seasons. He played from 1998-2003 with the Cardinals, in 2004 with the Braves (hitting a career-high .305), 2005-06 with the Dodgers and the past two with the Red Sox. Last year, his grand slam against Cleveland in Game 6 of the ALCS helped Boston overcome a 3-1 series deficit and reach the World Series.
Thursday, he was carrying his team once again, sending it with newfound confidence into tonight's Game 6 at the Trop.
Drew's low-key view: "We'll take it a game at a time, try to rack up some wins and see how it goes."