|Darnell McDonald: ‘I’ll be ready [to pitch] for the playoffs’||08.27.11 at 12:53 am ET|
It was the most lighthearted moment from an otherwise dreary and dreadful night at Fenway for Red Sox fans and players alike.
Darnell McDonald coming in from right field to start and finish the ninth inning for the Red Sox, saving the bullpen an inning of work on a night where they were force to come in early and relieve an ineffective Tim Wakefield in a 15-5 loss to the A’s.
McDonald is not just any position player filling in for an inning. This was a player in high school in Colorado who impressed scouts with his ability to throw 95 off the mound as a pitcher. But that was also the last time he actually pitched in a game.
That is, before Terry Francona asked him coming off the field in the eighth inning if he could save the Red Sox pen an inning with the prospects of a split doubleheader just over 12 hours away.
“I just came in [from right field after the eighth] and Tito just asked me if I could throw an inning and I said I was more than happy to do it.”
His first pitch – from the stretch – to Scott Sizemore sailed all the way back to the screen.
“I haven’t pitched since high school. It’s been a few years and obviously, you can see the rust on me. Really, it was a lot tougher than it looks,” McDonald said. “Was trying to throw strikes. I was a little wild early on and couldn’t find my release point but a couple more bullpen sessions with [pitching coach] Curt [Young], I’ll be ready for the playoffs.”
Don’t know if Francona or Young necessarily see it that way but certainly they’ll cut him some slack with the tongue-in-cheek humor after he took one for the team on Friday. Actually, McDonald had Josh Willingham down 1-2 before leaving a sinker up to A’s batter who had a game-high four RBIs. Willingham doubled home a pair of runs to leave McDonald with an 18.00 ERA.
“It’s an inning,” McDonald said. “Hopefully, we’ll regroup [Saturday] and just come back and play good baseball and get back on track. If I can help the team by eating up an inning, I’m more than willing to do so.
“I was really trying to work on my sinker and that pitch to Willingham was a mistake, it caught a lot of the plate and he was able to get in there. The first pitch I had to get the nerves out and find that release point. It’s a lot harder than it looks. I give our pitchers a lot of credit.”
McDonald would walk the first two batters on 10 pitches before settling down. He threw 24 pitches, 11 for strikes.
“That was the first time I pitched since I’ve been playing professionally. A little work with Curt and couple more bullpen sessions, I’ll be able to throw some more strikes, maybe break 90. Hopefully, there won’t be but if there’s another time, I’ll be ready to go.
“It didn’t hit me until the first hitter got into the box. Really, I just didn’t want to hit anyone. I would’ve felt bad if I hit someone in the face.”
McDonald – in becoming the first Red Sox position player since Bill Hall in May 2010 to pitch in a game – did get the baseball memory of a lifetime.
“It’s probably up there,” he said. “Being able to come in and pitch in a big league ball game, that’s a once-in-a-lifetime thing for myself and something I’ll remember forever.”
The Red Sox and Francona did give him some valuable advice, looking to protect that valuable outfield arm that has already thrown a handful of would be runners out on the bases, including a pair at home.
“Don’t throw any breaking balls, just lob it in there,” McDonald said of the advice. “But once the adrenaline kicks in and you see the miles per hour up there, you try to let it go a little bit. I really just didn’t want to hit somebody. We were able to get out of the inning. It’s too bad I gave up a couple runs but now I’m official. I’m officially a pitcher.”
McDonald’s fastball sat mainly between 83-85 MPH but he did manage to crank it up to as high as 89 and 90 toward the end of the appearance.
“I checked it out a couple of times,” he said. “I went to the replay and I hit 90. That was all upper body, if I use my legs, I definitely know I could break 90.”
David Ortiz had one final lighthearted take on it all.
“Haha,” Papi laughed. “It was cool, man, to see my man out there performing as a pitcher. Now he knows it’s not that easy.”
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