TORONTO -- The phone call Kevin Youkilis long dreamed of receiving came Friday at noon. He had just arrived in Charlotte, N.C., with Triple A Pawtucket.
"Do you have a passport?" PawSox manager Buddy Bailey asked him.
"Well, get ready to fly to Toronto," Bailey said.
So it was that "The Greek God of Walks," as Youkilis was dubbed in the best-seller "Moneyball," learned he would make the leap of his lifetime. Youkilis, who rolled up a remarkable .451 on-base percentage in his first three seasons in the minors, made his major league debut yesterday playing third base for the Red Sox. Filling in for Bill Mueller, who is sidelined with inflammation in his right knee at least until Tuesday, Youkilis launched a 402-foot home run off Pat Hentgen in just his second career major league at-bat.
"It's an unbelievable feeling," he said.
As he completed his home run trot, Youkilis, 25, pointed at his parents, Mike and Carolyn, who sat two rows behind the Sox dugout after rushing to Toronto from Cincinnati. While the Sox congratulated Youkilis after briefly giving him the silent treatment in a prank concocted by Pedro Martinez, his parents gleefully exchanged high-fives and hugged.
"I'm just thankful my parents could see this," he said, "because they mean the world to me."
Youkilis, who was drafted in the eighth round in 2001 out of the University of Cincinnati, has been projected to replace Mueller after the 2005 season. He was not expected to reach the majors so quickly, but he benefited from injuries to Mueller and Nomar Garciaparra as well as a taxing stretch that has worn down Pokey Reese and Mark Bellhorn. The Sox decided they needed an extra position player rather than a 12th pitcher and optioned lefthander Mark Malaska to Pawtucket.
"Although our bullpen has been used pretty significantly, we want to give Billy a couple of days off with that swelling," manager Terry Francona said. "We want to let him come back after the offday [tomorrow] in Tampa and hopefully feel real good. We were a little thin."
Youkilis hit .258 with three homers, 13 RBIs, and a .347 on-base percentage in 32 games for Pawtucket. He opened the season batting .180 through his first 11 games before hitting .292 over his last 21.
"Any time you get off to a slow start, you always have to go back to what you were doing right and that's what I did," he said. "I just went back to the good things I was doing in spring training."
Youkilis became the seventh Red Sox to homer in his first major league game. The others were Sam Horn (July 25, 1987), Danny Sheaffer (April 9, 1987), Merrill Combs (Sept. 12, 1947), Eddie Pellagrini (April 22, 1946), Ben Steiner (April 17, 1945), and Lefty LeFebvre (June 10, 1938). Youkilis also became the first Sox to homer for his first hit in the majors since Creighton Gubanich May 3, 1999.
Third man out
Mueller acknowledged he has played for a while with inflammation in his knee, though he maintained the discomfort has not affected him in the field or at the plate. He has hit .255 with five homers and 20 RBIs while committing seven errors through his first 34 games. Last year, he hit .347 with three homers and 17 RBIs while making two errors through his first 34 games.
"I would say if there's inflammation there, that's an obvious sign that it's kind of been around," Mueller said, noting that it worsened in recent days.
Sox medical director Bill Morgan started Mueller on a regimen of anti-inflammatories late Friday and advised him to rest at least until Tuesday. Mueller said the injury was the result of general wear and tear. "You're kind of at the mercy of life sometimes," he said. "When you get out there and try to play your [butt] off every night, it happens. I'm not 24 anymore, unfortunately."
The Sox continue to track former Yankee third baseman Aaron Boone's rehab from knee surgery with an eye toward adding him to the roster late in the season. Boone's grandfather, Ray Boone, who played for the Sox in 1960, remains a team consultant . . . Sox pitchers held the Jays to four hits for the second straight game. Bronson Arroyo (eight innings) and Keith Foulke (one inning) combined for the team's fourth shutout . . . Arroyo picked up his first win as a starter since Aug. 29, 2002, with the Pirates . . . The Sox acquired minor league outfielder Henri Stanley from the Padres for a player to be named and cash. Stanley hit .248 with 2 homers and 12 RBIs in 28 games for Triple A Portland.