It's not often players wearing the opposing colors are cheered in Fenway Park. It's usually very much the contraire. Baseball is an intense and highly partisan business in Fenway. But Kevin Youkilis is a special case. And he was cheered lustily for 45 seconds Monday night when he returned to Fenway for the first time after having been traded. The Sox Youkilis wears nowadays are white, and he plays his aggressive style of baseball for Chicago.
Youkilis acknowledged the cheers and the familiar cries of "Yooouk!" when he came to bat in the first by doffing his batting helmet and waving to the fans. Then he singled sharply up the middle against Sawks pitcher Aaron Cook, whom Youkilis had played against in high school in Cincinnati.
Then Fenway fans were treated to yet another example of Baseball According to Youk, a demonstration of why the Fenway faithful had loved Youkilis since he arrived in Boston in 2004, the year of the Sawks' first world championship since World War I.
With the shift on for Adam Dunn, Youkilis was moving when Dunn hit a routine ground ball to Sawks second baseman Pedro Ciriaco who threw to first baseman Adrian Gonzalez for the out. With his head always in the game, Youkilis saw that Sawks third baseman Will Middlebrooks, Youk's replacement on the Sawks, had not gotten back from the shift to cover third. So Youk kept on trucking, causing Gonzalez to throw wildly to Middlebrooks who was on the move. The ball got past Middlebrooks and Youk scampered home with the first, and only as it turned out, White Sox run of the evening. I doubt Fenway fans have ever enjoyed seeing an opposing player score more than they enjoyed this one.
What real baseball fan wouldn't love a player who can score from first on a routine ground ball to second? Youkilis doubled twice later in Monday's game, and was honored a second time after the first inning when a montage of Youk! highlights was played in Fenway and "Thanks Youk" was displayed on the scoreboard.
For eight seasons plus Yooouk!, as he's known in Boston, was productive with both bat and glove and played a kind of all-out baseball that made him a favorite in Red Sox Nation. But baseball is an unsentimental game for the guys with the green eye-shades in the front office. Accumulating years (33 is kind of a no-man's land in baseball years), a big salary, and a talented young third baseman to take Yook's place while he was injured earlier this year, put an end to Yoouk's Red Sox career.
Youkilis has shown no bitterness over the trade. He understands the baseball reasons for it. He's just gone about making himself worthwhile on the South Side. With his injuries pretty well healed, Youkilis has hit over .300 since coming to Chicago, including .385 over his last 10 games, and has had four three-hit games in less than a month. Sweet Home, Chicago.
How long Chicago will be Youkilis's baseball home is not clear. He'll be a free agent at the end of this season, and his $13 million team option will make him an expensive item to have on the roster in 2013. But this year the talent-rich White Sox, leading the AL Central by two and a half games on Wednesday, have a real shot at the World Series. Baseball fans could be hearing cries of Yooouk! well into October.
Monday night's game went about like Sawks fans wanted it to. Youkilis had a good night personally. But the White Sox could only muster two more hits to go with Youkilis's three, and lost to the Sawks 5-1. Gonzalez, whose first inning throwing error allowed Youkilis to score, sealed it with a three-run homer in the eighth.
The happy homecoming continued Tuesday night, at least for Youk, when he hit a three-run homer in the 4th to give the White Sox a 6-2 lead. This time the lead held up for a 7-5 White Sox win. If he keeps this up, it won't be that long before Youk is treated like any other visiting player who inconveniences the local favorites. In fact, the Youks! were a bit subdued after his three-run shot.
The excitement surrounding the Youkilis return to Fenway Monday took attention away from the fact that Carl Crawford, coming off of a wrist injury, was in the Sawks lineup for the first time this year. He went one for three and scored twice. Tuesday night he added three more hits, for his own version of welcome back. If Crawford can play anywhere near his considerable abilities for the final two and a half months of the season, the Sawks' post-season chances get a big boost.
The possible downside coming out of Monday's game is that David Ortiz came up lame running the bases. An MRI Tuesday showed an injured right Achilles tendon. Ortiz is expected to miss at least a week. The Sawks and Sawks fans hope Big Papi, who is having a big year, is not out of the lineup any longer.
Baseball giveth, and baseball taketh away. But Monday night was yet another memorable one in Fenway.