On June 12, we beat the Marlins, 2-1, in an obviously close game. Buchholz was a big part of that; he pitched seven innings and gave up only one run on five hits, while walking one and striking out two. One of those five hits was a solo shot in the seventh. Padilla received a hold for the seventh, and Aceves got the save in the ninth. We scored both of our runs via small ball in the seventh; Youk grounded out, Middlebrooks singled, Gonzalez flied out, Shoppach doubled in Middlebrooks, and Aviles singled in Shoppach. We completed our series against the Marlins with a win as lopsided as that one was close, winning by a final score of 10-2. Doubront delivered unquestionably his best start of the season, pitching a full seven innings and giving up two runs on three hits while walking one and striking out nine. One of those three hits was a solo shot with two out in the sixth. Padilla, Miller, and Albers combined to pitch the rest of the game. And our hits were really busy; Aviles scored on a groundout in the third, Papi homered in the fourth, three consecutive singles and a sac fly in the sixth yielded two more, and we put up a six-spot in the eighth, when we sent eleven batters to the plate! Punto doubled, four straight singles yielded three runs, Middlebrooks got hit, Salty scored another with a sac fly, Sweeney lined out, and two straight singles scored our last run.
On June15, we started our series against the Cubs, and I am both relieved and pleased to say that Dice-K had himself a phenomenal start! He pitched six innings and gave up three runs on four hits while walking three and striking out three. He threw ninety-three pitches, sixty-two of which were strikes. Atchison and Melancon finished the game on the mound. But we were shut out and lost, 3-0. We had better luck in the next game, which we won, 4-3. Lester went six and two-thirds innings and allowed three runs on seven hits while walking one and striking out eight; he gave up a two-run shot with one out in the seventh. Salty homered with Papi on in the fourth, Middlebrooks singled in another run in the sixth, and then Podsednik singled in our final run in the seventh. We ended up winning the rubber game by a final score of 7-4. Beckett was out with inflammation in his right shoulder, so all those times I called for the bullpen to start rather than the starter finally paid off. Morales pitched five innings and gave up two runs on four hits while walking none and striking out five; all in all, I’d say he was spectacular given the circumstances, including the fact that it was his first start since 2009. He threw eighty pitches. Albers then received a blown save for giving up the tying run; Miller, Melancon, and Atchison held the fort until Aceves allowed a run in the ninth. In the first, Pedroia doubled and Papi singled for two, Papi led off the fourth with a solo shot, we scored three in the seventh on a single and two sacrifices, and we scored one in the eighth on a force out.
We played the Marlins again starting on Monday, this time at home, and this time we swept them. The first game’s score was 7-5; Buchholz gave up five runs on nine hits while walking one and striking out three. Albers, Miller, and Padilla performed well in middle relief, and Aceves picked up the save. Papi hit a two-run shot in the first, Shoppach hit a two-run shot in the second, Ross hit a solo shot in the fourth, Gonzalez hit a sac fly in the fifth, and Middlebrooks doubled another in in the sixth. The second game was a 15-5 blowout. Doubront gave up four runs on nine hits while walking one and striking out four; Mortensen gave up one run, and Melancon pitched a shutout inning. Aviles hit a three-run shot in the second to start the scoring. Ross hit a bases-loaded, bases-clearing double in the third for three more runs. We blew it wide open in the fourth; Kalish singled in one, Papi smacked a grand slam, and Salty hit a solo shot! Punto scored on a wild pitch in the fifth, and Middlebrooks hit a two-run shot in the eighth. We barely won a nailbiter to complete the sweep. Dice-K gave up four runs on four hits over five and a third innings; he walked one and struck out four. Miller gave up one run, and it was Atchison who picked up the win and Aceves the save. We got on the board in the fourth when a single and a sac fly brought in two, and we tied it up in the fifth with a single. Then they led by two until the eighth, when Middlebrooks hit a two-run shot and Nava singled in a third run. After Aceves’s performance, we had the sweep in hand.
After the Marlins, we hosted the Braves. We lost on Friday, 4-1, but it wasn’t for lack of starting pitching. Lester pitched seven innings and gave up three runs on ten hits while walking one and striking out five. This time it was Melancon who allowed a run while Mortensen recorded the game’s last out successfully. We scored our only run in the eighth on a double by Nava. We won on Saturday, 8-4; Morales started again and was fantastic. He gave up three runs, two earned, on seven hits over six innings while walking one and striking out eight; he threw eighty-six pitches. Atchison, Miller, Padilla, and Aceves all appeared in relief. Gonzalez singled in one and Middlebrooks doubled in another in the first, Pedroia doubled in two in the second, Middlebrooks homered in the third, Ross doubled in another in the fifth, and Nava singled in two in the seventh. We ended up winning the series yesterday with a final score of 9-4. Cook started in place of Buchholz, who was hospitalized due to a gastrointestinal problem. Cook gave up three runs, two earned, on six hits over five innings. He walked none and struck out none. Albers allowed another run in relief; other than that, Miller, Atchison, and Melancon performed well and took care of the rest of the game. Ross hit a three-run shot in the fourth, followed by a solo shot by Gonzalez. Middlebrooks brought another one in with a sac fly in the fifth, followed by another home run by Ross, this one for two runs. Nava doubled in another run in the sixth, and Youk tripled in our final run in the seventh.
It turned out that that run would be the last that Youk would bring home and third base would be the last base that Youk would defend and that game would be the last that Youk would play in a Boston uniform. He was traded yesterday with cash to cover the remainder of this year’s salary before that at-bat to the Other Sox for utility man Brent Lillibridge and right-hander Zach Stewart, who the team has been scouting apparently since his college days.
Even before the at-bat, the crowd knew it was probably their last time seeing this phenomenal player playing for them; they had already given him a well-deserved standing ovation before his first at-bat in the second, and Youk had already returned it with a tip of his helmet. In classic dirt-dog fashion, Youk legged out that triple, admittedly with a little help from the Braves, and went into the slide, and the standing ovation that he received afterwards was huge, thunderous, and extremely well-deserved. Punto came out to pinch-run, since Ben didn’t want him injured, and after an emotional hug, as the two have been friends for years and years through Athletes Performance in Arizona, Youk returned to the dugout. He tipped his helmet and was greeted by everyone at the entrance for more hugs and then emerged for a curtain call for both the crowd and his teammates, initiated by none other than Big Papi himself.
On the day, Youk went two for four with the triple and the one RBI. Obviously, he also walked once and was involved in a controversial defensive play in the third during which there was some concern that he may have sustained an injury but flashed his characteristic leather throughout. Also obviously though, there is more to a player than his final at-bat for a ballclub. Youk was more to us than a triple and some good plays at third. We picked him in the eighth round of the First-Year Player Draft in 2001 and raised him ourselves on the farm, and his first year in the Majors culminated in a World Series ring, our first in eighty-six years; with this trade, Papi is now the only member of that team still playing for us today. Three years later, he added another in 2007. He finishes his career in Boston with a batting average of .287, an on-base percentage of .388, 728 strikeouts, twenty-six stolen bases in forty attempts, and 961 hits. Of those, 239 were doubles, seventeen were triples, and 133 were homers. He batted in 564 runs and scored 594. He played in 953 games and accumulated 3,352 at-bats. Last but not least offensively, two of the stats for which he is most renowned throughout Major League Baseball, he walked 494 times and was hit by eighty-six pitches. Now that’s a combination of eyes and patience if I’ve ever seen it.
In addition to his offense, the second aspect to Youk’s incredible game as his fielding, and this was where his versatility really shone. Youk was a fixture at the corners. Both of them. It is fitting that he ended his Boston career at the bag where he began it, but he will be remembered as someone who routinely crossed the diamond without a word or a hiccup. His fielding percentage at third in 362 games and 320 starts is .966; his fielding percentage at first in 594 games and 546 starts is .997. In his career thus far, he has also played second base, left field, and right field and has made 986 assists, 4,788 putouts, and only forty-four errors.
There are all sorts of comparisons to be made between his stats and those of other greats the game has seen, but he was such a unique player that he shines in his own right, which brings me to the third and final aspect of Youk’s game, which was his character and leadership off the field. As is the case so often for veterans who have played here, he was an extremely classy player. He gave everything he had for every single at-bat at the plate and every single play in the field; he was completely invested in the well-being of the team, as evidenced by his visible and often physical expressions of frustration at his recent lack of production. Every extra-base hit he legged out, every diving play he made, every walk he worked, and every batting helmet he threw were all the result of a fierce desire to see this team succeed. He was a terrific mentor to the younger guys, including his replacement even as he was conscious of the fact that he was being replaced, and had a fierce, determined, and committed will. He earned every All-Star vote he ever received and represented us three times as someone who really embodied the spirit of what it means to play here. He was committed to his teammates as well, as evidenced in their extremely heartfelt goodbyes. Pedroia said he loves the guy, as do well all.
We all knew this was coming. Youk was being sidelined by Middlebrooks constantly, and the lineup was all convoluted to try to fit him in, and he didn’t exactly get along with Bobby V., and the rumors were steady. But putting all of that aside, it speaks volumes about the type of player but also the type of guy that Youk was that after a big win that gave us the best record we’ve had all year, the mood in the clubhouse was sad, somber, and serious. Youk helped us win two World Series championships and gave his all to this team, this city, and this game. To say that he will be missed is an extreme understatement. Youk, we salute you.