Kevin Youkilis was like a cop at the scene of an accident before Tuesday’s game at Baltimore: Move along, nothing to see here.
There are some who believe Youkilis’ return to the Red Sox lineup, with rookie Will Middlebrooks playing Tom Brady to his Drew Bledsoe at third base and Gold Glove first baseman Adrian Gonzalez chasing balls in right field, has all the makings of a 10-car pileup on the Mass Pike.
And so, it is left to manager Bobby Valentine, who has already failed at playing clubhouse cop with Youkilis last month, to now direct traffic in his lineup and keep his veteran stars and eager rookie happy and healthy.
In Wednesday’s 6-5 victory over the Orioles, Middlebrooks was again at third. Youkilis, who went 2-for-3 after homering in his Tuesday return, was again at first base and Gonzalez, who is perhaps the only interested observer not concerned about playing the outfield, was back in right.
How long this makeshift lineup sustains itself, before the incumbents yearn to return to their natural positions, is now Valentine’s most critical task as the Red Sox appear poised to return above .500 and make a summer run at no less than a Wild Card spot.
Valentine echoed general manager Ben Cherington’s assertion that Youkilis will return to an everyday role at third base; that he will not lose his job to Middlebrooks because of the injury that kept him on the disabled list for nearly four weeks.
Ironically, back in 2004, it was Youkilis who was called up in May to replace the injured incumbent, Bill Mueller, only to be shuttled back and forth between Boston and Pawtucket for the better part of the next two seasons.
That won’t be the case with Middlebrooks, who continues to impress in his first month of major league action and will not be sent back to Pawtucket, even with Youkilis active.
The issue is more likely how much longer Youkilis will be playing third base every day for the Red Sox. Certainly, as Youkilis has already shown that his bat is healthy, the Red Sox will listen to offers from other teams. The Cardinals, for instance, have lost both their first baseman (Lance Berkman) and third baseman (Matt Carpenter) to the DL in a span of four days.
As long as Youkilis, Middlebrooks and Gonzalez continue to compete for two available infield spots, it’s a story that Youkilis will not be able to wave away.