BOSTON — Kevin Youkilis took off his batting helmet, waved to the crowd and blew a kiss to his adoring fans.
A favorite at Fenway Park for so long, he wanted a final chance to say so long.
The Boston Red Sox traded away the hard-nosed Youkilis on Sunday, sending the three-time All-Star infielder and cash to the Chicago White Sox for utilityman Brent Lillibridge and right-hander Zach Stewart.
“Bobby [Valentine] wanted him to have that moment of walking off the field,” Red Sox general manager Ben Cherington said.
A member of Boston teams that won the World Series in 2004 and 2007, the 33-year-old Youkilis had seen his playing time drastically cut lately. He now joins the AL Central-leading White Sox, who wanted a regular third baseman.
“I just got off the phone with him, he’s very excited to join our club and he’s got a little edge to him that I like,” White Sox general manager Kenny Williams said. “I can’t tell you exactly what he said, but he wants to come in and prove some people wrong.”
Youkilis had a rousing end to his days with the Red Sox. He was unavailable after the game, leaving behind a locker without his nameplate above it.
After hitting an RBI triple in the seventh inning of a 9-4 win over the Atlanta Braves, he was lifted for a pinch runner. Longtime pal Nick Punto came out to replace him and the pair hugged.
Youkilis saluted the crowd and was rewarded with a standing ovation. His teammates, coaches and Valentine all were on the top step of the dugout cheering for him, and they urged Youkilis to take a curtain call.
Youkilis’ time in Boston became limited because of the play of rookie Will Middlebrooks, hitting .326 with nine homers and 34 RBIs in 41 games.
“The way Middlebrooks was playing, he needs to be in the lineup every day,” Cherington said. “Bobby’s done a good job of shuffling everyday.”
But the GM said the veteran Youkilis will long be remembered for his hustle and grit.
“He was a very passionate player that played very, very hard,” Cherington said. “He sort of willed himself to being an All-Star and obviously was a huge contributor for us in the middle of the lineup. He did a lot of good things.”
The Fenway faithful should get to see Youkilis soon. The White Sox visit Boston a week after next month’s All-Star game.
The season started kind of rocky between Youkilis and first-year manager Valentine.
In April, Valentine questioned Youkilis’ commitment to the game in his weekly television interview, then later apologized to him a day later.
Youkilis, who can play both of the corner infield spots, is a career .286 hitter with 133 homers and 563 RBIs.
Longtime teammate Dustin Pedroia said it was a tough day.
“He pushes me everyday,” the Boston second baseman said. “I want to go out and play hard just like he does. He’s always out there trying his best to do whatever he can to help us win. I appreciate him so much for that.”
The White Sox have been looking for a third baseman with Brent Morel plagued by back problems.
“I think it’s good for him. A good change of scenery, I’m sure,” White Sox star Paul Konerko said. “Guy’s a good player and he’s been a great player in Boston for a long time so you can play at that level you can play anywhere.”
The 25-year-old Stewart is 1-2 with a 6.00 ERA in 18 games with the White Sox this season. Lillibridge, 28, is hitting .175 with two RBIs and seven stolen bases in 48 games.
Cherington was excited to get Stewart.
“He’s a good thrower and looks like he can be a major league starter,” he said. “He just needs a little more time in the minors.”
Lillibridge is expected to join the Red Sox in a utility role.
“I loved playing here, I enjoyed it so much,” Lillibridge said after the White Sox beat visiting Milwaukee 1-0 in 10 innings. “I’m excited to see where my career will go and I’m excited to help the Red Sox.”