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Red Sox 9, Braves 4

Sox take care of business

Youkilis aids win, is traded to White Sox

By Peter Abraham
Globe Staff / June 25, 2012
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It had been evident for several days that the Red Sox were planning to trade Kevin Youkilis. But when the sun came up Sunday and he was still on the roster, general manager Ben Cherington and manager Bobby Valentine decided Youkilis would play against the Atlanta Braves.

The Red Sox wanted to give David Ortiz a day off and that opened a spot for Youkilis against Atlanta lefthander Mike Minor.

“Bobby felt like he could help us win a game,’’ Cherington said. “That’s the idea, to win the game.’’

In the end, it worked to perfection. Youkilis contributed to a 9-4 victory against the Braves and before the game was over had been traded to the Chicago White Sox.

“A crazy day,’’ said Cody Ross, who drove in five runs with a pair of home runs to left field. “But it probably worked out pretty well for everybody involved.’’

The spontaneity couldn’t be beat. As the trade was about to be consummated, Youkilis was due up in the seventh inning and Cherington sent word to Valentine to get the third baseman out of the game.

Valentine told the players in the dugout what was going on as Youkilis went to the plate. With two outs and a runner on first, Youkilis hit what looked like a routine fly ball to right-center. But center fielder Michael Bourn and right fielder Jason Heyward each thought the other had it and the ball fell between them. Youkilis, running hard in his last steps as a member of the Red Sox, slid in with a gift triple.

Nick Punto, who was going to replace Youkilis either on the bases or in the field before the next inning, was rooting for the ball to drop.

“Oh, my. You have no idea,’’ said Punto, one of Youkilis’s better friends in the game. “It’s a lot better when you get an RBI triple.’’

Youkilis hugged Punto as their paths crossed, then he saluted the wildly cheering crowd of 37,565. After being engulfed by his teammates in the dugout, Youkilis took a curtain call at the urging of Valentine, two men who didn’t get along very well the last few months finally agreeing on something.

With that, Youkilis went down the small tunnel and up the stairs to the clubhouse. The nameplate above his locker was gone by the time the game was over.

For all the emotion on the field and in the stands - and there was plenty - the business of baseball went on. On the day Youkilis was traded, the reasons he had to go were evident.

Adrian Gonzalez, now the full-time first baseman, was 2 for 3 with a walk and a home run. With Youkilis off the roster, Gonzalez won’t be playing right field any more.

Gonzalez hit .254 with a .648 OPS in 18 games as a right fielder. In his last five games, all at first base, he is 7 for 20 with three walks. Returning full time to his regular position could be what gets Gonzalez going offensively.

Ross was in right field for the fifth straight game. He is 7 for 22 with six extra-base hits and 10 RBIs in six games since coming off the disabled list. His return contributed to the trade, the Red Sox knowing it made no sense to keep using Gonzalez in the outfield.

Will Middlebrooks, whose play at third base was what ultimately pushed Youkilis out the door, was 0 for 2 as the designated hitter. But he walked and scored a run and drove in another with a sacrifice fly.

Middlebrooks has driven in at least one run in seven of his last eight games. The rookie has 34 RBIs in 41 games, something not accomplished to start a career since the Angels’ Wally Joyner had 39 RBIs in his first 41 games in 1986. As Cherington said, he has earned the right to play every day.

“Middlebrooks needs to be in the lineup. That’s pretty clear,’’ Cherington said.

The Red Sox have won seven of their last eight games, their rise coming with Youkilis going to the bench and Middlebrooks assuming a lead role. At 38-34, the Sox are four games over .500 for the first time this season.

“We’re playing well now and hopefully it continues,’’ Middlebrooks said.

Aaron Cook got the win, allowing two earned runs over five innings in his second start of the season.

Cook started May 5 and suffered a deep cut on his left knee while covering home plate, putting him on the disabled list. He lasted 79 pitches in his return but felt he could have thrown 10 or 15 more.

“I didn’t cut myself, that was a plus,’’ Cook said. “But the biggest thing was my arm felt good and I got though some innings.’’

Said Valentine: “He worked quickly, his sinker looked good. He elevated some balls, threw inside to lefthanders better than I had seen him. It was a good job.’’

Minor (3-6) walked Dustin Pedroia and Middlebrooks to start the fourth inning before Ross sneaked a home run over the wall in left. Gonzalez followed with a blast the same way, his closer to the foul pole.

Ross added a two-run shot in the fifth, a ball that cleared everything. Daniel Nava chipped in two hits and an RBI.

“Guys are playing hard, not that they haven’t played hard all year. But there’s just that little extra,’’ Valentine said.

The going-away party was a success, too.

“Someone was looking down because that’s the right way,’’ Valentine said.

The Blue Jays arrive at Fenway tonight. Baseball goes on and No. 20 won’t be in the lineup.

“We all love Youk,’’ Pedroia said. “But we all have to move on now.’’

Peter Abraham can be reached at pabraham@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @PeteAbe.

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