Back in the dead of winter, when the Red Sox were still scrubbing the stink of 2012 out of their clubhouse, the brain trust on Yawkey Way endorsed a plan for the team’s new everyday shortstop.
Then the new guy, Stephen Drew, met Caleb Thielbar, a lefthanded reliever for the Minnesota Twins. Or, more precisely, the helmet on Drew’s head met a spring training pitch from Thielbar.
On March 7, a bright day in Fort Myers turned fuzzy for Drew when Thielbar’s pitch concussed his brain. The concussion forced the Sox to shelve Plan A for Plan B (Jose Iglesias), with an eye toward Plan C (Xander Bogaerts).
For Drew, it was all a blur at first.
“I went home at night, and I wasn’t aware of things that I thought I was aware of,’’ he recalled Friday. “I was very dizzy.’’
Drew tried playing again, and matters worsened.
“It was a difficult thing to overcome,’’ he said. “Everything slowed down and it was hard trying to catch up.’’
It was harder still because Iglesias seized the opportunity and quickly established himself as a candidate for American League Rookie of the Year. By the time Drew returned April 10, Iglesias, a defensive wizard, had hit .450 while helping the Sox win five of their first seven regular-season games.
Yet six months later, Plan A is very much in force, Drew shining bright as the Sox prepare to open the AL Championship Series Saturday night against the Tigers at Fenway Park. In fact, Plan A ended up unfolding so well that the Sox may consider rolling it out again.
Drew is in the final weeks of a one-year, $9.5 million deal. After a strong finish — he batted .253 with 13 home runs and 67 RBIs during the regular season while playing well defensively — he is expected to draw several multiyear contract offers this fall, with the Sox potentially among his suitors.
Drew seems enticed by the possibilities.
“Who knows what’s going to happen next year?’’ he said. “I enjoy it here, and hopefully we can keep this thing together for a long time. It’s a great town to play in.’’
At age 30, coming off a severe ankle injury, Drew figured a one-year deal with the Sox was the best he could do after six solid seasons with the Diamondbacks from 2006-11. The ankle injury ruined his 2012 season, which he split between Arizona and Oakland.
With a big payday looming, Drew insisted he is more focused on the Tigers than the dollars. But he clearly is pleased to have survived a challenging season and put himself in position to compete for a championship and perhaps land a lucrative contract.
“It’s funny how baseball works itself out,’’ he said.
There was a time early in the season when some Sox fans wailed about wanting Iglesias to play over Drew. There has since been talk of platooning Drew, a lefthanded hitter, and Bogaerts, a righthander, because Drew batted only .196 during the regular season against lefties.
Sox manager John Farrell made clear in the Division Series against the Rays that he is prepared to opt for Bogaerts over Drew in certain situations. But Drew otherwise has silenced most of his critics.
“I’m very comfortable with myself,’’ Drew said. “Everything works out for a reason, and there’s nothing I can say negative about either of those guys [Iglesias and Bogaerts]. They’re great players.’’
It was especially challenging for Drew to prove himself defensively to Sox fans who had seen little of him before he reached Boston. Few players can match the defensive mastery of Iglesias, who was traded to the Tigers in July as part of a three-team deal in which the Sox acquired Jake Peavy from the White Sox.
But Drew committed only eight errors in 124 games during the regular season and finished second among American League shortstops with a .984 fielding percentage. Tampa Bay’s Yunel Escobar led, at .989.
“He has been a Gold Glove-caliber shortstop for us,’’ said Drew’s double play mate, Dustin Pedroia. “The middle of the diamond is very important, and he has played great there all year.’’
First baseman Mike Napoli has participated in most of Drew’s best plays.
“There’s no question he’s underrated,’’ Napoli said. “The guy is unbelievable. He makes every play that comes his way. He has been huge for us.’’
Drew’s modesty rivals that of his older brother, former Sox right fielder J.D. Drew, who was never big on blowing his horn. But the younger Drew takes pride in his defense.
“I played in smaller markets for six or seven years, so people didn’t see what kind of defender I was,’’ he said. “Now, they’re like, ‘We didn’t know you were that good.’ ’’
In fact, most things are good now for Drew, who has grown his beard in solidarity with some of his wackier teammates.
“Dude, this is a great clubhouse to be in,’’ he said. “When you come to work every day and have fun like this, it’s huge.’’
It took a while, but since his fuzzy vision cleared, Drew has liked most of what he has seen. And the Sox brain trust has liked what it has seen of him.