Nick Punto was the first person to talk to Kevin Youkilis after Youkilis was pulled from Sunday's game in the bottom of the seventh inning, a sure sign that a trade out of Boston was imminent.
After Youkilis tripled in what would be his final at-bat in a Red Sox uniform, he was removed in favor of Punto. The two shared an emotional hug in front of the pitcher's mound as Youkilis trotted off the field and Punto went to pinch-run for him at third.
"We've been friends a long time," said Punto, his voice choking with some emotion in the clubhouse after the Red Sox' 9-4 win over the Atlanta Braves, "probably ten years, and I know how much blood, sweat and tears he's poured into this organization. I think for me, it was kind of a goodbye. We haven't been teammates (until this season), but we've been friends for a long time.
"I think for the sake of baseball, it's always sad to see someone go like that."
Youkilis was given a standing ovation in his first at-bat in the second inning and, sitting next to Punto on the bench in the dugout, admitted to Punto: "Man, it was hard to hit after that. It felt pretty good."
Added Punto: "Not too many Boston Red Sox players have two world championships and he was a heck of a player for this organization."
As sad as he was to see his friend leave, Punto said the reaction of the fans to Youkilis on his last day was "pretty cool, pretty cool . . . It was a pretty cool moment for me, too . . . It doesn't surprise me with these fans. They have great instincts and they showed it there."
Will Middlebrooks, who took Youkilis's job at third base, was happy to see Youkilis get the opportunity to go out in style.
"For sure," said the rookie. "No one's earned that more than him."
Punto ventured that the trade would, ultimately "be good for him. The way it went down wasn't necessarily the greatest way, but I think he's going to be happier (playing more regularly) . . . He can clear his mind and go out and play baseball."
Dustin Pedroia recalled Youkilis as someone who "pushes me every day; I want to go out and play hard just like he does. He's always out there, trying his best to do whatever he can to help us win. I appreciate him so much
Pedroia added that the crowd reaction "meant a lot to (Youkilis) and meant a lot to us. Fans know how hard he played for the Red Sox. He did it first-class."
In the dugout, Pedroia told Youkilis "I loved him, man, and that I'll see him in July (when the White Sox visit Fenway for a four-game series between July 16-20.). I'll see him soon."
Cody Ross, like Punto a relatively new teammate, was still struck by the emotion of the afternoon.
"It brought a tear to my eye, that's for sure," said Ross. "To see him run off and tip his hat, he had some tears in his eyes. I got goosebumps. It was a special time. I know how much he means to this city. He won two World Series here, played his heart and soul out every day and was just a great teammate. He'll be missed."
For Ross, the events were a reminder that baseball can be a cold, hard business.
"Everyone in here understands it's part of the game," Ross said. "This wasn't something that was out of the blue -- everyone saw it coming, even him. But still you never really know until it happens. It's tough. He's a great teammate like I said and he'll be a longtime friend for me."