The stars align at Fenway

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. -- If they didn't already have baseball's highest prices, the Red Sox might have been able to get away with charging extra when they come home Monday night to play the Chicago White Sox.

There isn't a tent big enough, as they like to say, for this circus. If you're Don Draper, which attraction do you give your best sales pitch?

Kevin Youkilis appearing here for the first time in a White Sox uniform, coming face to face with the manager he detests, Bobby Valentine?

Jacoby Ellsbury, last season's MVP runner-up and hoped-for season-saver in 2012, returning to play in Fenway Park after an absence of three months?

Carl Crawford, ready or not, showing up to play for the first time all season?

"I guess the only thing we'll be lacking," Cody Ross said, "is Elvis showing up. Which is highly possible."

Well, to thicken the plot, the Sox could have saved Josh Beckett, who accused Youkilis of being the chicken-and-beer "snitch" in spring training, to pitch against the White Sox on Monday night, instead of Beckett fighting through the flu to give the Sox six innings in their 7-3 win over the Tampa Bay Rays in the Trop on Sunday afternoon.

No evidence has ever surfaced, by the way, to validate Beckett's suspicions, and judging by the thunderous standing ovation an emotional Youkilis received after his last at-bat on the day he was traded to the White Sox, the former third baseman left town with his reputation intact, not the easiest thing to do around here.

You can be certain that Youkilis will be greeted with a deafening chorus of "Yoouuks" when he is announced Monday night. Writing a thank-you letter to the Sox organization and fans that was posted on ESPN Boston on Sunday will only help him in a battle that he appears to have already won -- the one for hearts and minds.

"I'm just happy for him, doing the way he's doing his thing," David Ortiz said. "It doesn't surprise me, though. Good player."

Funny what a difference a clear head can make. Valentine was right about one thing Sunday when he made some pointed comments about Youkilis: The player never did get over what he perceived to be the unwarranted public shot Valentine took at him back in April, during what seemed an innocuous TV interview with Channel 7's Joe Amorosino.

Did it affect his performance (.235 batting average in 42 games) and psyche (miserable)? No doubt.

"This is a hard game to play, man," Ortiz said. "They see you struggle, they think it's over. They don't know it's part of the game. I was retired three years ago."

Retired? On Sunday, Ortiz had two singles and a walk, making it nine straight games that he's had at least a hit and a walk, the first Sox player to do so since Ted Williams in 1950. That's the kind of stuff that has kept Ortiz from being on, say, ESPN, as a broadcaster.

"I am on," he said. "Hitting bombs. I'm showing up on the screen."

Youkilis' intensity probably radiated too strongly for him to be a universally beloved character in the Sox clubhouse. Remember, even Manny ("It doesn't matter") Ramirez mixed it up with Youkilis in the dugout after one too many helmet-throwing episodes for Ramirez's liking. But the respect was always there, at least from the most important precincts.

And according to rookie third baseman Will Middlebrooks, Youkilis displayed an uncommon grace to the man who replaced him.

"He could very easily have turned his back on me, you know," Middlebrooks said Sunday. "He could have easily been bitter towards me, and he wasn't at all. He was a friend to me, on and off the field. I went to dinner with him, hung out. We talked a lot about the game, away from the game. He was just really good to me.

"You hate to lose a guy like Youkilis. It's bittersweet. I mean, obviously I've been trying to be a starter in the big leagues my whole life. At the same time, to lose a guy like Youk, it's tough. He was really good to me. I hated to see him go. Absolutely, I'll seek him out."

Middlebrooks, who missed the last six games before the break with a tender hamstring, has bounced back with a vengeance this weekend, hitting a home run off tough lefty David Price on Saturday night, then collecting three hits Sunday, including a two-run single. He was asked how often he expected to hear his name linked with Youkilis this week.

"Probably a lot," he said. "But that's fun. It'll be fun for him and the fans and all of us to get to see him."

For Sox fans, it should be a moveable feast of welcome sights, none more encouraging than Crawford and Ellsbury playing side by side in the Sox outfield for the first time in 2012. Ellsbury had six hits this weekend, including three Sunday, in his first games back after sustaining a partial dislocation of his right shoulder. Crawford is still bothered by pain stemming from a sprained ulnar collateral ligament in his left elbow, but said he feels pressured to come back, both by Sox management and the fans.
No sense waiting any longer. And second baseman Dustin Pedroia, making an unexpectedly rapid recovery from another thumb injury, could be back as soon as Thursday.

Ortiz said it has been great to have Ellsbury back, wreaking havoc in his typical fashion.

"And when CC comes back," he said, "it'll be even better. We need the thunder."