Ross, Cook power Red Sox past Braves in Youkilis' send-off, 9-4

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Ross, Cook power Red Sox past Braves in Youkilis' send-off, 9-4

BOSTON Cody Ross hit two home runs and knocked in five, and Aaron Cook returned from the disabled list to earn his first win of the season as the Sox beat the Braves 9-4 Sunday afternoon at Fenway Park.

Ross three-run home run into the Monster seats, scoring Dustin Pedroia and Will Middlebrooks, keyed a four-run fourth inning when Adrian Gonzalez, the next batter, followed with his sixth home run of the season. It was the third time the Sox hit back-to-back home runs this season, and the first time since May 19.

Ross, who went 2-for-4 with two runs scored, followed his first homer with a two-run shot in fifth, scoring Daniel Nava. His five RBI match the second-highest total of his career, and the most since he had five on June 2, 2009.

The largest cheers of the day, however, were saved for Kevin Youkilis. When he took the batters' box for his first at-bat in the second inning, he was given a standing ovation with fans realizing that Sunday might be Youkilis' last game as a member of the Red Sox.

In the seventh inning, Youkilis' last at-bat resulted in a surreal Fenway Park moment.

With two outs and Gonzalez on first, Kevin Youkilis hit an RBI triple to right-center. After he reached third base, manager Bobby Valentine lifted him for pinch-runner Nick Punto. The pair exchanged a hug on the field, and as Youkilis went to the dugout he saluted the Fenway crowd, exchanged more hugs in the dugout, and came out for a curtain call.

Though Youkilis had not yet been officially dealt by the Red Sox, with trade rumors hovering over Youkilis in recent weeks, Boston used the opportunity to say goodbye.

Cook went five innings, giving up three runs, two earned, on six hits, with no walks and no strikeouts. He threw 79 pitches, 48 for strikes.

Mike Minor took the loss for the Braves, falling to 3-6. He went 4 23 innings, giving up seven runs, four earned on six hits, three walks, four strikeouts and three home runs.

Report: Third base among 'major upgrades' Red Sox seek by trade deadline

Report: Third base among 'major upgrades' Red Sox seek by trade deadline

Despite still being owed more than $42 million after this year, Pablo Sandoval's days with the Red Sox appear numbered. So, it's no surprise that landing a third baseman at the trade deadline is a priority.

That's among the "major upgrades" the Sox are seeking by the July 31 deadline, MLB.com columnist Mark Feinsand reports.

With Sandoval now on his second disabled list stint of the season - this time with an ear infection - after turning into what Feinsand calls "a horror tale for the Red Sox," and with fill-ins Josh Rutledge and Deven Marrero holding down third, it's apparent that the position is a glaring need.

"Sandoval is basically a non-entity at this point," a source told Feinsand. "They need to make a move there."

Feinsand mentions the usual suspects - Mike Moustakas of the Royals and Todd Frazier of the White Sox - as possibilities. Also, he wonders if former MVP Josh Donaldson could be pried away from the Blue Jays (if "Dave Dombrowski knocks their socks off") with an offer and if Toronto is still sputtering at the deadline?

Those other upgrades? "Boston is also looking for pitching, both in the rotation and bullpen," Feinsand writes. Again, no surprise there.

Drellich: Red Sox' talent drowning out lack of identity

Drellich: Red Sox' talent drowning out lack of identity

A look under the hood is not encouraging. A look at the performance is.

The sideshows for the Red Sox have been numerous. What the team’s success to this point has reinforced is how much talent and performance can outweigh everything else. Hitting and pitching can drown out a word that rhymes with pitching — as long as the wins keep coming.

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At 40-32, the Sox have the seventh-best win percentage (.556) in the majors. What they lack, by their own admission, is an intangible. Manager John Farrell told reporters Wednesday in Kansas City his club was still searching for its identity.

“A team needs to forge their own identity every year,” Farrell said. “That’s going to be dependent upon the changes on your roster, the personalities that exist, and certainly the style of game that you play. So, with [David Ortiz’s] departure, his retirement, yeah, that was going to happen naturally with him not being here. And I think, honestly, we’re still kind of forming it.”

To this observer, the vibe in the Red Sox clubhouse is not the merriest. 

Perhaps, in the mess hall, the players are a unified group of 25 (or so), living for one another with every pitch. What the media sees is only a small slice of the day. 

But it does not feel like Farrell has bred an easygoing, cohesive environment.

Farrell and big boss Dave Dombrowski appeared unaligned in their view of Pablo Sandoval’s place on the roster, at least until Sandoval landed on the disabled list. 

Hanley Ramirez and first base may go together like Craig Kimbrel and the eighth inning. Which is to say, selfless enthusiasm for the ultimate goal of winning does not appear constant with either.

Dustin Pedroia looked like the spokesperson of a fractured group when he told Manny Machado, in front of all the cameras, “It’s not me, it’s them,” as the Orioles and Red Sox carried forth a prolonged drama of drillings. 

Yet, when you note the Sox are just a half-game behind the Yankees for the American League East lead; when you consider the Sox have won 19 of their past 30 games, you need to make sure everything is kept in proportion.

How much are the Sox really hurt by a lack of identity? By any other issue off the field?

Undoubtedly, the Sox would be better positioned if there were no sideshows. But it’s hard to say they’d have ‘X’ more wins.

The Sox would have had a better chance of winning Wednesday’s game if Kimbrel pitched at any point in the eighth inning, that’s for sure. 

Kimbrel is available for one inning at this point, the ninth, Farrell has said.

A determination to keep Kimbrel out of the eighth because that’s not what a closer traditionally does seems like a stance bent on keeping Kimbrel happy rather than doing what is best for the team. The achievement of a save has been prioritized over the achievement of a team win, a state of affairs that exists elsewhere, but is nonetheless far from ideal — a state of affairs that does not reflect an identity of all for one and one for all.

Maybe the Sox will find that identity uniformly. Maybe they’re so good, they can win the division without it.