Youkilis giving AL Central-leading Chisox a lift
By RICK GANO
CHICAGO (AP) Kevin Youkilis changed Sox last month, from Red to White, and made the move from Boston to Chicago, where he is again an everyday player.
And through the first week and a half with his new team, the change has been good for both him and the AL Central leaders.
Taking over at third base and batting second, Youkilis had 11 RBIs and two homers in his first 11 games.
In his first homestand at U.S. Cellular Field, Youkilis has been hearing the familiar "Youk" cries that used to come down from Fenway Park during his successful run with the Red Sox. He had seven RBIs, two homers and a game-winning single in the 10th inning in his first four home games.
"Excited to be in first place. I think that's the coolest thing about coming over here," Youkilis said.
"In this game you have to prove yourself until the day you retire. Every year there's expectations to fulfill and sometimes you fall short of them and sometimes you exceed them so it's part of the game. ... I haven't played up to my capabilities yet this year and hopefully in the second half I can."
The 33-year-old Youkilis homered and had four RBIs in his home-field debut. He hit a game-winning, 10th-inning single in his second home game, smacked a go-ahead homer to lead a sweep of the Texas Rangers the next day and then had another RBI single and stellar defensive play Friday night as Chicago won its fourth straight by beating Toronto.
Youkilis helped the Red Sox win World Series championships in 2004 and 2007, but he started slowly this season and spent much of May on the DL with a sore back.
Red Sox manager Bobby Valentine questioned Youkilis' commitment to the game during a television interview early in the season and later apologized to him a day later.
Youkilis batted just .233 with four homers and 14 RBIs in 146 at-bats for the Red Sox in 2012 and the emergence of Will Middlebrooks made him expendable.
The Boston experience - which featured an emotional standing ovation on his final day with the Red Sox - is over, Youkilis likes to say.
He's already given the White Sox a much needed lift with both his bat and his glove at third base where projected started Brent Morel has been sidelined a good portion of the season by back problems. Veteran Orlando Hudson was acquired but couldn't get comfortable at the position after years as a second baseman.
Youkilis has already made several sparkling plays at third, coming in barehanded or backing up and making a nice stop.
"Those plays he's making at third, there's none of those that he hasn't made," said Chicago manager Robin Ventura, who should know a thing or two about the position since he won six Gold Gloves there.
Youkilis, a Gold Glove winner himself at first base in 2007, gives the White Sox versatilty in the field and a No. 2 hitter who can both get on base, has power, can drive in runs and is known for grinding out at-bats.
"He has an energy he brings. The competitiveness he has. It's infectious and it's a good thing for our guys to see and a guy who has been a winner," Ventura said.
"He doesn't stand around and tell everybody about it. He leads by example."
Blue Jays manager John Farrell had plenty of time to see Youkilis in the AL East and said the change has obviously been beneficial. At least at the outset.
"A very tough at-bat every time he comes to the plate. That's a guy that's never going to give an at-bat away. A strong competitor, and when he's right offensively, he's got extra-base power and the ability to hit good pitching," Farrell said.
"The reports that we have since the trade, he's played with a lot of energy. A change of scenery, in this case, has injected him with some life."
The White Sox were a season-best nine games over .500 entering Saturday. Youkilis has been inserted into a lineup that already had All-Stars in Adam Dunn and Paul Konerko batting third and fourth and two other players having strong seasons in Alex Rios and A.J. Pierzynski.
"He's just doing what he's always done, just doing it in a different uniform," Konerko said of Youkilis.
Rangers manager Ron Washington sees the same thing.
"Number one, that lineup was already tough. ... They were already dangerous. What he brings is a winning piece," Washington said. "He's a tough cookie, man. ... This guy has always won. He can play."
Coming to a new team after eight years-plus in a baseball-crazy city such as Boston has not been a difficult transition. Youkilis already knew Dunn and pitcher Jake Peavy from playing in the World Baseball Classic.
Making it all the more comfortable is that Youkilis doesn't have to check and see if his name will be in the lineup when he comes to the park.
"I've been an everyday player my whole life, so I don't think it's any different to me. It's a great thing. ... Robin's been great in talking to me about where I'm going to play and where I'm going to hit and all that stuff. It's been an awesome experience so far."
Updated July 7, 2012