The extra innings kept piling up as the Red Sox played the Orioles Sunday at Fenway Park, and, after a while, Darnell McDonald could just sense that he’d end up on the mound doing last-resort duty. Red Sox manager Bobby Valentine had run out of options.
The Sox starter, Clay Buchholz, had been lit up for five runs and three homers in just 3 2/3 innings.
Valentine had used his bullpen, from Andrew Miller, who had just been activated after a 30-day rehab stint, to Scott Atchison, who had thrown three innings the day before. Five other pitchers took the mound between them.
“Obviously if the game goes on someone’s going to have to take the mound for us,’’ McDonald said.
By the 17th inning, Valentine’s options were so slim his choices were either McDonald or Adrian Gonzalez. McDonald got the call.
For a position player, McDonald actually had the most recent experience on the mound. He pitched in the ninth inning of a 15-5 loss to the Athletics last Aug. 26.
The stakes were different this time, though, as the Sox came from behind to take a 6-6 tie into extras, hoping they could snap a four-game losing streak and avoid being swept by the Orioles in a series of at least three games at Fenway for the first time since 1994.
“[Valentine] told me, ‘Atch, this is probably his last inning, so be ready,’ ’’ McDonald said.
In retrospect, Valentine said, “I wish there was another option.’’
It didn’t take long for McDonald to find himself pitching to Adam Jones with two on and one out.
Jones smashed a three-run homer that put the Orioles ahead, 9-6, and when McDonald grounded into a 6-4-3 double play in the bottom of the inning, that sealed Boston’s loss.
The irony was that Baltimore’s bullpen was so depleted that the Orioles’ designated hitter, Chris Davis, who did anything but hit in the game (0 for 8 with five strikeouts), wound up being the winning pitcher.
“He actually had good stuff, man. I was impressed,’’ McDonald said. “He had a lot of life on his ball, more than I expected. I don’t know what’s worse, giving up the three-run homer or grounding out into a double play to end the game. He got the win and [my] hat’s off to him.’’
McDonald entered the game as a pinch runner for David Ortiz in the eighth inning. By the time he left he had four at-bats and an inning pitched under his belt.
In the 10th inning, McDonald struck out looking at a fastball and had words with plate umpire James Hoye.
The first three pitches McDonald threw to Wilson Betemit, the leadoff hitter in the Orioles’ 17th, were called balls, but McDonald said he didn’t think the exchange with Hoye earlier in the game had anything to do with it.
“He called a strike on me, it was probably a pretty good pitch,’’ McDonald said. “And it was a long game [6 hours, 7 minutes], so I don’t think it carried over.’’
Davis was just happy to get a chance to wash away his 0-for-everything.
“I’m like, ‘Sweet, I get to try something different today because hitting ain’t working,’ ’’ Davis said. “It was a tough day at the plate. I’m like, seriously am I going to get another at-bat? I kept getting more at-bats and more at-bats.
“I didn’t feel bad at the plate, I had a couple of long at-bats, but I was in a hole trying to get myself out of it on top of trying to break out and do something to break the streak of scoreless innings. Obviously, if the game goes on someone’s going to have to take the mound for us.’’
According to STATS LLC, it was the first major league game since 1925 in which both teams put a position player on the mound.
In all, there were 18 pitchers, the first time since 1918 that as many as 18 had appeared in a game at Fenway. It came just two days after the Sox used seven pitchers and the Orioles six in a 13-inning marathon.
“It’s a lot harder than it looks,’’ McDonald said. “I was really focused on just trying to come in and throw strikes.
“Our bullpen has been doing a [heck] of a job for us, and you want to come in and pick them up. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to do it today.’’Julian Benbow can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.