BOSTON -- The prime-time story of Monday's 5-1 Red Sox victory over the White Sox clearly stood out as Kevin Youkilis' return to Fenway Park with the South Siders.
Youkilis held court in the interview room at Fenway Park for 17 minutes prior to the start of the contest, received a 45-second standing ovation before his first at-bat and then watched a video tribute from the Red Sox on the center-field scoreboard thanking him for work done on and off the field. Youkilis was traded to the White Sox on June 24 in exchange for Brent Lillibridge, who was designated for assignment by the Red Sox on Monday, and Zach Stewart.
Every visible step Youkilis took, the "Youuuk" chants followed close behind. He tipped his helmet to all parts of the ballpark during that first at-bat against Aaron Cook and waved to the crowd again from the White Sox dugout after the video was complete.
But there was an important sub-story for the White Sox (49-40) during their first setback at Fenway Park since Aug. 26, 2009, snapping a seven-game winning streak. That storyline became the good and the bad produced by the vast White Sox rookie corps, ranking right up with Youkilis' two doubles and a single in four trips to the plate.
Let's start with the bad, which is really what ended the night for the White Sox, whose American League Central lead slipped to 2 1/2 games over the Tigers (47-43). Leyson Septimo (0-1) entered in the seventh inning of this battle deadlocked at 1 with Pedro Ciriaco on first and two outs.
Septimo was to face left-handed-hitting Jacoby Ellsbury, but as the rookie worked against the Boston leadoff man, veteran southpaw Matt Thornton also got up in the bullpen. After Septimo retired Ellsbury on a popup to Youkilis, Thornton was told to sit down.
Basically, the White Sox chose to stay with Septimo to work the eighth in a tie game and that decision cost them. Septimo walked Carl Crawford and David Ortiz to open the inning, and Adrian Gonzalez launched a 2-1 pitch over the Green Monster for an opposite-field three-run homer.
Fellow rookie Nate Jones replaced Septimo and allowed an insurance run, meaning the hard-throwing right-hander has given up runs in three straight appearances. It seems difficult for the White Sox to continue their lofty division standing with six rookies and Thornton making up the bullpen, but manager Robin Ventura can't magically employ what he doesn't have available.
"Right now you don't have a choice. That's what we are," said Ventura, who hopes to have Jesse Crain back soon from the disabled list. "We've got guys who need to grow up quick and be able to get it done. That's just where we're at until guys get healthy."
"I was looking for another fastball for a strike, being aggressive and he threw a fastball up in the zone that I was able to get to," said Gonzalez of the Septimo pitch. "It feels great to win the game."
On the flip side of the rookie record was Dylan Axelrod's quality start on two days' rest. Crawford, Ortiz and Gonzalez touched him up for three straight singles in the first and Ciriaco knocked out three hits, but otherwise Axelrod dominated the Red Sox (46-44) while matching a career high with eight strikeouts.
Cody Ross, Jarrod Saltalamacchia and Will Middlebrooks, who has replaced Youkilis at third for Boston, struck out two times apiece against Axelrod. The rookie threw 109 pitches, including a 33-pitch first, two days after he threw 31 pitches and worked two scoreless innings for a victory during Friday's 14-inning affair at Kansas City, but got stronger as the game progressed.
"Just settling in a little bit," said Axelrod of his first-inning struggles. "I just go into the game almost trying too hard. I just tell myself that I need to relax and let it flow. Don't do anything that I'm not capable of doing. Do what I do and it seems to work. I need to figure out a way to do that from the beginning."
"Their guy matched Cook pitch for pitch," said Boston manager Bobby Valentine of Axelrod. "I was glad to see him leave."
Cook was equally effective, yielding one unearned run over seven innings and 97 pitches. That run scored in the first when Youkilis singled and advanced to second on Adam Dunn's one-out grounder to Ciriaco. With the shift on for Dunn, Youkilis noticed nobody was covering third and continued racing for the base.
Gonzalez made an ill-advised throw toward Middlebrooks, who was sprinting to get to third. When the ball hit off Middlebrooks' glove and rolled away, Youkilis came home.
"He's got nothing on me. Twenty-three years old. I think I could beat him in a race," said a smiling Youkilis of Middlebrooks. "That's unbelievable. I was joking with him and kind of yelling at him, 'Come on, Will.' He hit that dirt and fell down and I knew I had him."
Although it was a night full of special memories for Youkilis, he wished it would have ended with a White Sox victory. That chance evaporated when Septimo got wild in the eighth, pitching in a spot where he probably doesn't belong at this point of his career.
"Whoever goes in there, veteran or not, you have to step in and do the job," Ventura said. "I don't put training wheels on them because they're a rookie. There are a lot of guys who are in positions they wouldn't be in if everybody was healthy. But that's where we're at."