BOSTON -- On a day when the Red Sox moved a season-high four games over .500, the biggest cheers weren't for the victory but for Kevin Youkilis.
The subject of swirling trade rumors for weeks, Youkilis left Sunday's 9-4 win over Atlanta after an RBI triple in the seventh inning to a standing ovation. Good friend and teammate Nick Punto replaced him as a pinch-runner. As Youkilis walked off the field, the Fenway faithful rose to their feet to salute the two-time World Series champion.
Youkilis hugged Punto and walked to the dugout, where his teammates summoned him to come out for a curtain call. Before his final at-bat, Boston had a deal in place to send the veteran third baseman to the White Sox. Manager Bobby Valentine informed the team of the situation, planned to honor Youkilis and was thrilled when he launched a triple to right field.
"It worked out perfectly," Valentine said. "A minute before he was going into the batter's box [general manager] Ben [Cherington] called me down into the runway and said that there's a situation pending and we said, 'OK we'll do it the right way.' That was the right way. He had the longest run to the dugout."
Youkilis, who left the ballpark quickly Sunday and did not talk to reporters, had his playing time diminish and his name tossed around in numerous trade scenarios in recent weeks with the emergence of rookie Will Middlebrooks at third base.
But on Sunday, the Fenway faithful showed their support and gave Youkilis a standing ovation before his first at-bat in the second. When he finally left the field in the seventh, fans let him know he would be missed.
"The reception was phenomenal when he walked up to the plate," Valentine said. "He's legendary. His work ethic, his dedication, his ability on the field, he never comes off the field with a clean uniform and always gave it everything he had. The fans here get it, there's no doubt about it. It was perfect."
Said second baseman Dustin Pedroia: "It meant a lot to him, it meant a lot to us. The fans know how hard he played for the Red Sox and he did it first class."
While Youkilis has commanded the headlines off the field, Cody Ross has been a force on the diamond since returning from the disabled list at the start of a nine-game homestand.
Ross belted a pair of towering home runs and had a season-high five RBIs to power the Red Sox past the Braves in the series finale.
Boston improved to 9-2 in its last 11 games, 5-1 on the homestand and won its fourth straight series.
Since returning from a fracture of the navicular bone in his left foot on Tuesday, Ross is 7-for-22 with three homers, three doubles and 10 RBIs. Sunday was the outfielder's second multihomer game this season, his first since April 23 vs. the Twins and the ninth of his career.
Ross broke open a scoreless game with a three-run homer in the fourth that barely cleared the Green Monster. The blast followed a pair of walks from Braves southpaw Mike Minor to Pedroia and Middlebrooks to begin the frame.
Adrian Gonzalez followed with a solo shot over the Monster, the third time Boston has hit back-to-back homers this year.
Atlanta responded with three runs in the fifth. Eric Hinske crushed a two-run triple to center. He scored when starter Aaron Cook made a throwing error attempting to catch Hinske in a rundown after fielding a comebacker. Instead, the ball flew past Youkilis as he tried to cover third and went out of play.
But Ross stretched the lead again in the fifth on a two-run laser over the Monster following a Middlebrooks sac fly, giving the Sox a 7-3 advantage with Ross' 11th homer of the season.
"Cody Ross got us today," said Braves second baseman Dan Uggla. "What can you do? We battled back but they continued to add on. That shows signs of a good team."
Middlebrooks made his first career start as the designated hitter, going 0-for-2 with an RBI and a run scored.
Cook did his job filling in for the ill Clay Buchholz, navigating five innings and allowing three runs on six hits. Cook was activated from the disabled list before the game and made his second start in a Red Sox uniform.
"I felt really good. It was nice to get out there, pitch some quality innings and get a win today," Cook said. "My sinker was working, my cutter was working, I got into a rhythm early and was able to keep going."
The Sox chased Atlanta's starter early for the second time in as many games. Minor allowed seven runs (four earned) on six hits in 4 2/3 innings to lose his sixth game of the season.
At 38-34, the Red Sox are a season-best four games over the break even mark.
Austin Laymance is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.