A star is born in stunning Red Sox win
Newcomer McDonald plays the hero’s role
There was the distinct possibility that as Darnell McDonald stepped to the plate in the eighth inning, very few of the 37,614 at Fenway Park could identify the Red Sox outfielder. There was the possibility, too, that just as few knew he had been added to the roster only hours before, taking the place of fan favorite Jacoby Ellsbury. Didn’t matter.
McDonald, who began the day not on the team’s 40-man roster and the game on the bench, did what the Red Sox have failed to do so often this season. With Jason Varitek having doubled his way ahead of McDonald, the pinch hitter slammed a 2-2 pitch into the seats above the Green Monster, pulling the Red Sox even with the Rangers at 6, inciting that crowd, and helping erase the memory of the nine stolen bases the Sox had given up earlier in the game.
And those fans certainly knew his name by the time he came to bat in the ninth, with the bases loaded and two outs. They stood for him then, hoping and praying he could halt Boston’s five-game losing streak, and six-game skid at home. He did. McDonald’s high drive scraped the wall, sending Kevin Youkilis home for a much-needed 7-6 win.
“I wanted to be the hero tonight,’’ said McDonald. “I wanted to come through. I know the team has been struggling a little bit. When I came up here, any opportunity I got, I wanted to be a spark. I didn’t think it was going to happen like this.’’
His single, the one that left him in the middle of joyous, ecstatic, destructive chaos, left McDonald nearly bloodied. He was tackled in front of second base, the crowd of happy players moving all the way to short left field before ending in a pile on the ground. They were, in a word, thrilled.
“Hopefully I’ll be able to play tomorrow,’’ McDonald said. “They beat me up pretty good. When I seen [Jonathan] Papelbon running out there, I tried to run away. Somebody got a hold of me.’’
Though not everyone quite made it to the celebration. As Varitek said, smiling, “I couldn’t ever catch up to it. I was too slow to catch up to the pile.’’
No matter. It was an essential win that left the clubhouse emotional afterward. They knew exactly how important this was.
“There was some poetic justice, however you want to put it,’’ manager Terry Francona said. “I don’t care how we did it. We desperately needed to win a game, and we found a way to win.’’
“It was a huge win for us,’’ Tim Wakefield said. “It was a huge positive step for us to come back in that game and win, especially in the fashion that we did. The guys never gave up. A lot of heart and a lot of desire . . . Darnell, unbelievable.’’
He was a most unexpected hero, becoming the first player to homer in his first Sox at-bat since Orlando Cabrera Aug. 1, 2004, and the first player to homer in his first Sox at-bat as a pinch hitter since Curtis Pride Sept. 19, 1997.
“I couldn’t write a script any better than this,’’ said the 31-year-old McDonald, who is now with his seventh organization. “A lot happened real quick tonight. A dream come true.’’
Prior to last night, he said his biggest moment was either making Cincinnati’s Opening Day roster last season or his first career home run. This put those to shame.
It has taken a lot to get to this point, a lot to reach home plate in the ninth with the weight of Fenway Park bearing down. He had been taken in the first round of the 1997 draft, the 26th overall selection by the Orioles.
That was promise. This, 13 years later, was fulfillment.
“A lot of perseverance and hard work, just keep plugging along,’’ McDonald said. “To get to this point, really, I can’t put it into words how much it means to me.
“When hard work meets opportunity, things like this happen.’’
But, up until that eighth inning, it appeared this game was going the same way as all those losses before. The Sox had come into last night’s game having allowed a stunning 22 steals in 23 chances, and that only got more embarrassing as the night went on.
The Rangers had tied a team record with eight stolen bases with one out in the fourth. They stole five — two by Vladimir Guerrero, whose immobility has relegated him to designated hitter — in the third inning alone.
The record? The Rangers had a new one by the fifth, with Nelson Cruz getting credit for steal No. 9. That also tied the Red Sox club record for stolen bases allowed, which last happened Oct. 3, 1913.
“The way the game started, to hear the music downstairs and see those guys’ faces after the game, that’s important,’’ Francona said. “Now we need to make that catapult us, whatever the word is. We need to show up tomorrow and still play better.’’
Wakefield, who blamed himself for all the steals, wasn’t sharp.
He allowed six runs in six innings, on seven hits, five walks, hitting a batter, throwing two wild pitches, and collecting a balk.
“I was very disappointed in myself,’’ Wakefield said. “Too many walks. I wasn’t throwing strikes. I didn’t have a very good feel again today. Obviously the results showed.’’
The Sox, though, crept back, with a Jeremy Hermida home run here, with a Josh Reddick two-RBI double there, the latter of which left Josh Hamilton twisting and turning in left field. Then came the eighth. Then came the ninth, the hit that made McDonald the first ever member of the Red Sox to collect a game-ending RBI in his debut with the club, according to the Elias Sports Bureau.
And it earned him a new nickname from a joking Dustin Pedroia, who deemed him “the Microwave,’’ taking the nickname from former Piston Vinnie Johnson for the instant offense he provided.
But asked how many in that crowd knew his real name, McDonald said, “Probably not a whole lot. That’s the beautiful thing about it. Hopefully they’ll know who 54 is now.’’