Bowden outing a downer

By Adam Kilgore
Globe Staff / August 22, 2009

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When he arrived at Fenway Park yesterday afternoon, Michael Bowden had known only success in the major leagues. The Red Sox gave him a clearly defined job, he fulfilled his role, and then he left. His minor league coaches call him a bulldog, and that is how he approached each stint.

Bowden knew what was needed yesterday. “Security,’’ he said, just a few hours before the New York Yankees’ 20-11 evisceration of the Sox began. The Sox needed a pitcher to pile up innings if all hell broke loose. Bowden was prepared.

The beginning and the end of Bowden’s third big league appearance were the same, his arrival and departure occurring the same day. The middle brought his first sour major league moments, a nightmarish two innings in which the Yankees pounded him for seven runs and eight hits.

“It’s definitely disappointing,’’ Bowden said. “That’s why I’m here - they wanted me to go out there and eat some innings. That’s what I was here to do, and unfortunately I wasn’t able to do that. It feels like I let the team, I let the bullpen down. It happens. Hopefully, it won’t happen again next time.’’

The final moments of Bowden’s stay in Boston differed from his previous triumphs. After he dressed in jeans and a black polo shirt, traveling secretary Jack McCormick chatted with him. Bowden learned he had been optioned back to Pawtucket. After he answered a final reporter’s questions, starter Brad Penny, whose malfunction necessitated Bowden’s entry, wrapped him in a hug.

The plan had worked precisely in Bowden’s first two major league forays. On Aug. 30, 2008, the Sox found themselves desperate for a starter. They chose Bowden, then a 21-year-old pitching for Double A Portland. He allowed two runs on seven hits and pitched with poise and purpose.

He entered this season widely regarded as one of the Sox’ best prospects. In late April, against the Yankees, the Sox needed an extra pitcher in their bullpen who could throw multiple innings. Bowden faced six batters and retired them all.

Bowden’s first pitch, fittingly, was a ball. His second pitch ended up beyond the bullpens in right. Hideki Matsui smashed a three-run home run, and the Yankees never stopped bullying Bowden. The same team he had quieted in April crushed him last night. He needed 43 pitches just to escape the fifth.

After Bowden allowed three more runs in the sixth, he had thrown 63 pitches, only 32 for strikes. He consistently fell behind batters and could not spot his pitches. He felt tired, but he could have thrown more.

For the first time, Bowden confronted failure in the major leagues. His first two outings were moments to learn from. So was his latest.

“It’s just an experience in itself,’’ he said. “I’m going to learn from it and do better next time.’’

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