Commentary

Kevin Youkilis feels love at Fenway

White Sox third baseman honored by warm reception in return to Boston

Updated: July 17, 2012, 1:12 AM ET
By Joe McDonald | ESPNBoston.com

BOSTON -- Prior to his first game back at Fenway Park since he was traded to the Chicago White Sox last month, former Boston Red Sox third baseman Kevin Youkilis said Monday afternoon he's a competitor and it doesn't matter whom the opponent is.

Yeah, right.

Youkilis went 3-for-4 with a pair of doubles and a run scored in his return to Boston for the first time since he was traded on June 24. It was the fourth time he has had at least three hits in the 17 games he's played with the White Sox.

[+] EnlargeKevin Youkilis
Bob DeChiara-US PresswireAfter getting a huge ovation before his first at-bat, Kevin Youkilis had a laugh when he scored in the Chicago first.

Those three knocks weren't enough, however, as the Red Sox defeated the White Sox, 5-1, so it was a bittersweet homecoming for Youkilis.

Most former Red Sox players receive an impressive ovation when they return to Boston. Youkilis was no different, and in fact his cheer was louder than most.

He was in the starting lineup Monday for the 17th consecutive game since arriving in Chicago, and he batted second. After leadoff man Alejandro De Aza grounded out to second base in the top of the first inning, Youkilis walked to the plate and the Fenway fans stood and began to applaud and chant "Yooouk."

Red Sox catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia leaned over and said something to Youkilis, and after the brief conversation Youkilis stepped out of the batter's box, removed his helmet and tipped it to the fans.

"It was a great ovation and a cool thing by the fans," Youkilis said. "They've been great to me and I can't say thank you enough for the support they've given me.

"The place was pretty loud and rocking and it was really cool. I wish it could have ended better and wish we could have won the game."

A moment went by, he waved one more time before he stepped into his office and did his job like so many times before from the right side of the plate.

"Youk did his thing when he was here and the fans appreciated it," Red Sox DH David Ortiz said. "I'm happy for him that he's doing good and life continues, man. The one thing that you'll never get over is that he goes out and tries to kick some butt. I'm pretty sure that's what he is going to try to do and that's understandable. He is trying to do his job."

Youkilis did his job Monday.

His previous at-bat at Fenway Park came on June 24 when he was still wearing a Red Sox uniform. He provided a triple off Atlanta Braves reliever Chad Durbin in the bottom of the seventh inning, then was pulled for pinch runner Nick Punto. The deal to send Youkilis to Chicago was complete and he walked off the field to a standing ovation from his Red Sox teammates and the fans.

He returned Monday in similar fashion.

Facing Red Sox starter Aaron Cook, Youkilis drove a 2-2 offering up the middle for a base hit in that first at-bat.

"I wasn't as anxious as I thought," he said. "It was kind of cool to face Aaron, since I grew up with him and played against him a lot, so it was only fitting to have him on the mound. I know he's probably really mad at me."

Youkilis accounted for Chicago's only run with a heads-up baserunning play, scoring all the way from first. He reached second on a fielder's choice and noticed no one was covering third with the Red Sox using an infield shift, so he kept running. First baseman Adrian Gonzalez made a throwing error, attempting to loft the ball to Will Middlebrooks, but the ball got away and Youkilis scored to give Chicago a 1-0 advantage.

He laughed when he crossed home plate.

"He's got nothing on me," Youkilis said with a laugh when asked about beating Middlebrooks to the bag. "He's 23 years old and I think I could beat him in a race. That's unbelievable. I was joking with him, yelling at him, 'C'mon, Will.' He just hit that dirt and fell down, so I knew I had him. It was like going in the end zone in football, I guess."

After the first inning the Sox honored Youkilils with a montage on the videoboard that ended with the message: "For your commitment to the New England community, your dedication to Red Sox Nation, and your gritty play at Fenway Park, THANKS YOUK!"

The sellout crowd at Fenway began to chant again, and Youkilis, once again, responded with a wave.

"I just saw a little bit of it because I was in the dugout. A couple of guys were joking, but it was very nice. The fans loved it and my teammates got a kick out of it. We had a lot of fun with it and joked around," Youkilis said.

He added two more hits -- a double in the third and a double in the sixth -- before striking out on a 96-mph fastball from Red Sox reliever Vicente Padilla in the top of the eighth.

In 17 games for the White Sox, Youkilis has made an impact on the field and in the clubhouse. He posted five game-winning RBIs in his first 14 games with Chicago, and he's hitting .323 with 4 doubles, 3 homers and 15 RBIs since the trade.

"He's been great," White Sox catcher A.J. Pierzynski said. "I knew him a little bit before off the field and playing against him, but he just comes to play every day. He grinds out at-bats. He has a knack for big games and getting big hits. I was happy for him tonight when the crowd gave him a nice ovation and the Red Sox organization treated him right with that video, so it was cool. It was really cool."

There were 38,334 in attendance on Monday night, the largest crowd at Fenway this season. It's no coincidence it was the night Youkilis returned to Boston.

"Everyone was great to me and people were cheering me when I was running off the field," Youkilis said. "It was pretty cool and I know it was special for my mom. She was here and she was probably in tears. My family really appreciates all the support the fans have given me."

The Red Sox never will be just another opponent to Youkilis.

Joe McDonald

Reporter, ESPNBoston.com

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