Commentary

Sox sink to new, subterranean lows

Updated: May 7, 2012, 2:54 PM ET
By Gordon Edes | ESPNBoston.com

BOSTON -- Flashback:

"If this isn't bottom, then we'll find some new ends to the earth or something."
-- manager Bobby Valentine, after Red Sox blew a 9-0 lead to the Yankees in a 15-9 loss, April 21, 2012

[+] EnlargeDarnell McDonald
Matthew J. Lee/The Boston Globe/Getty ImagesDarnell McDonald was the loser in the first-ever pitching matchup of designated hitters.

It took just 15 days, but after Boston lost 9-6 to the Baltimore Orioles on Adam Jones' three-run home run off designated hitter Darnell McDonald -- yes, you read that right -- in the 17th inning, consider those new ends found.

"I've been broadcasting 37 years," Orioles play-by-play man Joe Angel said, "and I've never seen anything like this."

Nobody has, because this has never happened before. The Orioles and Red Sox played 17 innings Sunday afternoon -- 6 hours and 7 minutes, the afternoon game drawing to within just seven minutes of the 7:50 p.m. sunset -- before the Orioles were last seen high-fiving the winning pitcher, Chris Davis, whose day began as the Orioles' designated hitter.

Yes, you read that right, too.

"They gave me basically a walk-off win celebration which I thought was awesome," Davis said. "I seriously don't know what happened. I mean, I was just out there trying to throw strikes and not blow the game."

Until he was called out of the bullpen, Davis was flirting with what could have been the worst day ever by a big leaguer: He struck out the first five times he came to the plate, hit into a double play and grounded out twice more.

"That's history books there," McDonald said. "But I think his day is a little better now."

It was indeed history: Davis became the first player since pitcher Rube Waddell in 1905 to go 0-for-8 and be credited as winning pitcher. That game went a then-record 20 innings and was also lost by the Sox, in Boston, on the Fourth of July, the afternoon game in a morning-afternoon doubleheader. It made the front page of the Boston Daily Globe, complete with a cartoon illustration. The losing pitcher was a guy by the name of Cy Young. Both winner Waddell and loser Young went the distance.

The Globe called it "one of the greatest games ever played on a ball field," the Sox losing, the Globe reported, "on poor fielding by the Boston men in the last inning, when they went to pieces."

One hundred and seven years later, and "went to pieces" still works, especially for McDonald, who gave up a double to J.J. Hardy and walked Nick Markakis before Jones unloaded with his home run.

No Orioles hitter had gone deep in the 17th inning or later since Andy Etchebarren did so in the 19th in 1967. No Sox reliever had given up a home run so late in a game since Jeff Fassero was taken deep in the 19th by Mike Cameron, then playing for Seattle, in 2000.

"That was a really tough loss, man, especially with the job our bullpen has been doing," McDonald said.

There would be one last indignity for McDonald. He came to the plate with two on and one out in the 17th. A home run would have drawn the Sox even. Instead, he rolled into a game-ending double play.

"I had an opportunity to tie it up -- most pitchers don't get the chance to do that," McDonald said. "That's what was most disappointing about it."

McDonald was on the bench when his afternoon began, then entered the game as a pinch-runner for David Ortiz in the eighth inning, scoring the run that sent this game into extra innings. He remained in the game as the DH until entering to pitch in the 17th, making this the first-ever matchup of dueling DHs.

[+] EnlargeMiddlebrooks
Darren McCollester/Getty ImagesThe celebration of Will Middlebrooks' first career home run, a game-tying grand slam in the fifth, proved short-lived for the Sox.

McDonald was still warming up in the bullpen in the home half of the 16th when Mike Aviles hit a two-out drive into the gap in left-center off Davis, who once pitched for the Longview (Texas) High School Lobos and Navarro Junior College. With Marlon Byrd, who had reached on a two-out error by third baseman Wilson Betemit, speeding around the bases, McDonald thought the game was over.

"I was hoping," he said. "I was getting ready to run onto the field for a celebration."

The Orioles pulled the plug on that party when center fielder Jones and shortstop J.J. Hardy executed a perfect relay, catcher Matt Wieters greeting a stunned Byrd at the plate with the ball.

"I thought he was going to score when I saw the ball hit," Valentine said. "Darn shame."

Utter relief for Davis, who hadn't pitched in a game since 2006 but welcomed the chance Sunday when approached by manager Buck Showalter.

"I'm like, 'Sweet, I get to try something different today, because hitting ain't working," said Davis, who became the first American League position player since Yankees outfielder Rocky Colavito in 1968 to record a win as a pitcher.

Two very smart managers, Valentine and Buck Showalter, had both run out of pitchers, the teams running through a total of 18, most ever to appear in a game in Fenway. This was one of those situations made for Tim Wakefield, except he's retired and playing golf in Hingham.

Both bullpens had performed magnificently. The Orioles scored an unearned run in the eighth. The Sox answered in the bottom of the inning, a sacrifice fly by Jarrod Saltalamacchia bringing home McDonald after Ortiz had opened the inning with a double. That was it.

Andrew Miller, just called up, relieved Clay Buchholz in the fourth with two on, broke Nick Markakis' bat on a comebacker to end the inning, then struck out the side in the fifth. Scott Atchison, who pitched three innings Saturday, came back for two more Sunday. Rich Hill, fresh off Tommy John surgery, pitched two innings and faced another batter in a third. Alfredo Aceves, who had struck out six in 2 2/3 Friday night, struck out three more Sunday. Matt Albers and Franklin Morales, two scoreless innings apiece.

In four straight innings, from the 12th through the 15th, the Orioles hit into double plays. They hit into six double plays in all, all but one against the bullpen.

But come the 17th, Valentine had no one left. Clayton Mortensen had thrown 3 1/3 innings on Saturday. He wasn't coming in. Jon Lester, who was starting Wednesday, had already thrown his between-starts bullpen. Valentine wasn't going to mess with Felix Doubront and Daniel Bard, who are pitching in that order the next two nights in Kansas City, for essentially the same reason Showalter cited for not using one of his starters. It wasn't worth the "disarray."

"I was in the same boat as Buck was," Valentine said. "I started using my pen in the fifth inning, and he had a little better reliever at the end.

"I wish there was another option. Adrian [Gonzalez] really wanted to pitch, just for the record. And for the record, I didn't put him out there."

Also for the record: After three hits in each of the previous two games, Gonzalez went 0 for 8, his nadir coming when he chased a pitch from DH Davis to whiff on three pitches with Sox runners on first and second and no out in the 17th. According to Elias, no Sox cleanup hitter had ever gone 0 for 8. When approached about talking to the media after the game by Sox publicist Pam Ganley, Gonzalez shook his head, extending his oh-fer.

[+] EnlargeAdrian Gonzalez
Greg M. Cooper/US PresswireAdrian Gonzalez capped an awful 0-for-8 day by striking out with two runners on in the 17th.

So, it was left up to McDonald, who had pitched once before in the big leagues, last Aug. 26. But that was in a 15-5 blowout loss to Oakland, not in a tie game. McDonald hadn't done that since he was winning state high school championships for the Cherry Creek (Colo.) Bruins, 15 years earlier.

"Did that all the time in high school," he said. "Play the outfield, then come in and pitch the ninth."

This wasn't high school.

"You want to come in and throw strikes," he said. "It's a lot harder than it looked. After the first couple pitches that I thought were pretty close and weren't called, you've really got to narrow in a little more, focus and throw strikes."

There was some thought that perhaps plate umpire James Hoye was squeezing the accidental pitcher, given that McDonald had heatedly objected to being called out on strikes as a batter in the 10th. McDonald scotched that notion.

"I went back inside and looked at the pitch -- it was a pretty good pitch," McDonald said. "My next at-bat, I told the umpire he got the call right. I don't think there was any carryover."

McDonald walked the first batter he faced, Betemit, but caught a break when Saltalamacchia threw him out attempting to steal. But then Hardy doubled, Markakis walked on a full count, and Jones, the man whose throw had extended the Orioles' night, took McDonald over the left-field wall.

What had been a sellout crowd of 37,394 at the outset was down to a few thousand hardy souls when it ended.

The Sox have now lost five in a row for the second time this season under Valentine, who looked utterly spent when he walked into the interview room afterward, softly exhaling before taking his seat. They have lost 10 of their past 11 at Fenway, both five-game losing streaks taking place on Yawkey Way. Terry Francona lost five in a row just once in eight years here, Danny Knobler of CBSSports noted. Never happened with Grady Little or Jimy Williams.

Now it has happened twice under Valentine, even though the Sox came back from an early 5-0 deficit fashioned by the struggling Clay Buchholz with a grand slam by rookie Will Middlebrooks, his first big league home run.

"It was a great game to come back in," Valentine said. "We were down, our young player hit a grand slam to tie it up, guys were pitching their hearts out of the bullpen. We just couldn't get that other run across."

The Orioles, meanwhile, leave town with a sweep of the Sox and sole possession of first place, 7½ games ahead of the Sox. Even during last season's horrid start, the Sox were never more than five games out of first.

"Neither team wanted to lose today, especially when it goes to extra innings," Davis said. "I mean, they would have pulled people out of the stands to finish that game. It's just a huge win for us."

The Sox shuffle off to Kansas City, certain of needing a fresh arm from Pawtucket to rescue a bullpen that threw 26 2/3 innings this weekend, the equivalent of three regulation games. Buchholz lasted just 3 2/3 innings Sunday, giving up three more home runs and five runs. One start into May, and he has a 9.09 ERA.

"It's gotta change," he said. "I don't think there's anyone in the history of baseball who's gone through a whole season giving up five runs every start."

So, where do you go when you've already reached the ends of the earth? The question wasn't put quite that way to Dustin Pedroia, whose diving catch in the 16th inning was highlight-reel material.

"I don't know," he said. "We're moving on to the next game. We just lost 15 minutes ago. We played 5 hours -- 6 hours, whatever. I don't think anyone gives a [expletive] about the loss today. We've got to come out tomorrow."

Gordon Edes

Red Sox reporter, ESPNBoston.com

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