Goodbye to Youk

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Goodbye to Youk

On May 15, 2004 seven months after one of the lowest points in Red Sox history and five months before the undisputed apex Kevin Youkilis made his Major League debut. The Sox were playing the Blue Jays at the artist formerly known as SkyDome, and Youkilis batted eighth and played third base for the recently-DL'ed Bill Mueller.

Youk was a guy who Boston fans were already familiar with before his first taste of Major League life. We knew him as one of the strongest prospects in the Sox system. We knew him as one of the faces of the Moneyball phenomenon. We knew him for his nickname: The Greek God of Walks. And of course, we knew him from his Oscar-nominated cameo in 1994's Milk Money, starring Ed Harris and pre-collagen Melanie Griffith.

In the second inning, the 25-year-old Youkilis took the plate for his long-awaited first career at bat . . . and promptly popped up to shortstop. But he got another chance in the fourth, and this time, drove a 2-1 pitch over the left field wall for his first hit a home run. However, what happened afterwards was far more memorable than the blast itself.

Youkilis rounded the bases and jogged back to the dugout, surely looking to celebrate the realization of a lifelong dream. Instead, he found nothing. Teammates, coaches, bat boys everyone ignored him. It was the old school silent treatment, and Youkilis was the perfect target. With no other options, he walked down to the end of the bench, where he sat awkwardly for a few seconds, until the Sox eventually called off the gag and trickled down to congratulate their newest teammate. It was hilarious. A uniquely memorable start to a uniquely memorable Red Sox career. One that came to a predictable, but nonetheless emotional end yesterday afternoon at Fenway.

In retrospect, the funniest thing about Kevin Youkilis' original nickname the Greek God of Walks will always be that Youkilis isn't even Greek. However, the most ironic thing about the name is that what ultimately endeared Youk to fans here in Boston is that he was just about the furthest thing from a God.

Nomar. Pedro. Manny. Papi. Those were baseball Gods. Those were guys who when at their best lived and operated on such a different level from the rest of humanity that it was hard to even fathom. They were larger than life. They were our idols.

Youk was our buddy.

The fire. The anger. The attitude. The chip on his shoulder. The beard. The endless array of Irish driving caps. They say when two people are married long enough, they start looking, dressing and acting alike. Well, after nearly a decade in Boston, Kevin Youkilis born and raised in Cincinnati looked and acted like a dead ringer for any lifelong Bostonian. Where most athletes around here can't wait for the season to end so they can escape to their home bases in California, Arizona, Texas and the Dominican, Youk was based here. He loved Boston. He was Boston. He embraced the city as much as we embraced him.

And we loved him for everything he brought to the game: The versatility. The hustle. The defense. The brutal abuse of the Monster. The rings. The All-Star Games. The Gold Glove. For helping bridge the gap from 2004 to 2007. For giving everything he had every time he was out there. What made Kevin Youkilis so especially fun to root for was that feeling that you were rooting for a friend. That he was so real and accessible. That he was a guy who could have played on your high school team. Hell, a guy who could have played on your 30-and-over beer league softball team.

He wasn't blessed with speed, power or ridiculous athleticism. He surely wasn't blessed with a superior physique. He was just a grinder. A guy who gave everything he had because he didn't have the luxury of doing it any other way. Even in 2008 and 2009, when he was without question one of the best all-around players in the American League, it still felt like we were rooting for an underdog. Maybe because we'd seen him as that dumpy 25-year-old. That we knew how hard he'd worked to not only get to that level, but to stay there. Whatever it was, we never took his success for granted.

Sure, he wasn't perfect. He pissed people off: teammates, coaches, opponents. And over the last few years, as his body wore down, that fiery attitude that once endeared him to Boston became an issue behind the scenes. We still don't know exactly how bad it was, but it was it was there. As a result of that, and the emergence of Will Middlebrooks, it was time for him to go. We all know that. We've been saying it for months. But even if the time was right for Youk and the Sox to part ways, that doesn't make it any easier to say goodbye.

But yesterday, we did.

Yesterday, eight years and change after that home run at SkyDome, 33-year-old Kevin Youkilis took the plate for his long-awaited final at-bat in a Red Sox uniform.

With one on, and two out, he drove a 2-1 pitch into right center field, and all things considered, it should have been caught. By major league standards, it was a pretty routine play. But as it turns out, that's part of the beauty. Because by major league standards, very few batters run their hardest after hitting somewhat routine fly balls. In most cases, when you see a ball fall in front of a blinded outfielder like Youk's shot did yesterday, you're looking at a stand up double. At a guy who jogs lightly around first, and then kicks into gear once the ball hits the grounded. But in typical Youkilis fashion, he was on full blast from the second the ball hit the bat. By the time the ball hit the ground, he was chugging past second and on his way to third, where he eventually slid in (with all the grace that we've come to expect from Youk) for an unlikely triple.

This time, as he walked back to the dugout, there was nothing that resembled silence of that first home run in Toronto. This time, the whole team waited on the top step of the dugout. Instead of cold shoulders, they met him with hugs. With tears. As 35,000 fans said goodbye the only way they knew how. With an unbelievable standing ovation.

With a legendary round of applause for a legendary member of the Boston Red Sox.

He may not have been a God, but ultimately, that made everything he accomplished here all the more impressive. And all the more fun to root for.

Rich can be reached at rlevine@comcastsportsnet.com. Follow Rich on Twitter at http:twitter.comrich_levine

Moreland homers again, Red Sox tag A's to avoid four-game sweep

Moreland homers again, Red Sox tag A's to avoid four-game sweep

OAKLAND, Calif. - A five-run ninth inning for the Red Sox that lasted more than a half-hour derailed any chance Eduardo Rodriguez had of getting his first career complete game.

Not that the left-hander was complaining.

After a bitter loss to Oakland a year ago when he allowed just one hit over eight innings, Rodriguez was more than happy with the way things turned out.

Rodriguez earned his second straight win, Mitch Moreland homered in his third consecutive game and Boston beat the Oakland Athletics 12-3 on Sunday to avoid a four-game sweep.

"I wanted to go back out there but they hit the ball pretty good in that inning and I know I had to get out of the game," Rodriguez said about the long wait. "I'll take it because we score more runs, I have a chance to win. If every inning's like that, I'll get out of the game after five."

Rodriguez (3-1) allowed three runs over eight innings. He struck out eight, walked one and retired 14 of his final 15 batters.

"Where he was with the pitch count, it'd be nice for him to go out there for the ninth inning given where he was and how well he was throwing the baseball," Red Sox manager John Farrell said. "But at that point you're up nine, probably about a 35-minute inning, didn't want to take any chances."

Hanley Ramirez and Christian Vazquez had three hits apiece to power a Red Sox lineup that tallied 15 hits. Every player in Boston's starting lineup had at least one hit, and eight of the nine drove in runs.

Chad Pinder homered and drove in two runs for Oakland.

Boston, which hasn't been swept in a four-game series since July 2015, trailed 3-2 before scoring 10 runs over the final five innings.

"It felt we had them on the run a little bit," A's manager Bob Melvin said. "They get the lead and then we come back and take the lead again and you feel pretty good. But they were pretty persistent today."

Pinder went deep in the fourth, his fourth home run in eight games and fifth overall.

The A's committed three errors, giving them a major league-leading 42.

BRADLEY'S DEFENSIVE GEMS

Red Sox right fielder Mookie Betts gave the A's trouble with his running and defense. Betts scored twice from first base and also made a pair of strong defensive plays. He made a sliding catch on Mark Canha's sinking liner in the eighth and then slammed into the wall after catching Khris' Davis fly to end the inning.

"This place during the daytime plays very difficult," Farrell said. "What Mookie was able to do a couple times in right field, those aren't easy plays. To be able to stay with it, go up against the wall a couple of times, we played very good outfield defense here today."

TRAINER'S ROOM

Red Sox: Brock Holt continues to deal with lingering symptoms from vertigo and isn't yet ready to come off the disabled list, according to Farrell. Likewise, Boston plans to keep third baseman Pablo Sandoval in the minors to get consistent at-bats while recovering from a right knee sprain. ... Farrell said LHP Drew Pomeranz, who took the loss Saturday, will start against Texas on Thursday.

Athletics: Yonder Alonso (sore left knee) sat out his fourth straight game but could be back in the lineup Tuesday when Oakland begins a two-game series against Miami. ... Sean Doolittle (strained left shoulder) threw on flat ground before making 15 pitches off the mound. The plan is for the former closer to throw 25 pitches on Wednesday. ... Melvin said the team has applied for an extension on Chris Bassitt's rehab assignment. Bassitt underwent Tommy John surgery in 2015.

UP NEXT

Red Sox: Cy Young Award winner Rick Porcello (2-5) faces Texas on Tuesday in the opener of a three-game series at Fenway Park. Porcello has lost three of his last four decisions.

Athletics: Following an off day, RHP Jesse Hahn (1-3) starts against Miami on Tuesday at the Coliseum. Hahn leads the majors in fewest home runs allowed per nine innings at 0.19.

Sandoval goes 1-for-3, plays first game at third base for Pawtucket

Sandoval goes 1-for-3, plays first game at third base for Pawtucket


Red Sox third baseman Pablo Sandoval played five innings at third base and went 1-for-3 (a single) in his second rehab start for Triple-A Pawtucket on Saturday.

Sandoval, coming back from a right knee sprain, had a hard-hit single up the middle in the PawSox' 5-3 victory in Buffalo. After DHing in his first start Friday night (0-for-3), Sandoval handled a pop-up and started a double play at third on Saturday.

Red Sox utility man Brock Holt was the DH for Pawtucket on Saturday in the 13th game of his rehab assignment as he comes back from vertigo. He went 0-for-3 with a walk and two strikeouts.