As the sun set and first pitch neared Tuesday evening, Sean O’Sullivan stepped off the rubber on the Fenway Park mound, looked around at the crowd still filing in, and went to adjust his belt.
That’s when it hit him: What he was about to do — start a game for the Boston Red Sox, with family watching in the stands — was pretty, pretty sweet.
“Oh man. When I went out there — I’ve been here before, but I haven’t actually pitched here before,” said O’Sullivan, a 28-year-old veteran in his seventh major league season. “I saw ‘Red Sox’ across my chest. Man, this is cool. How many people get to say they get to start a game for the Red Sox in Fenway? That was pretty surreal.”
Two hours later, O’Sullivan walked off the mound with a line that was imperfect but effective: six innings, four runs. An hour after that, as the Red Sox finished off the A’s, 13-5, O’Sullivan had the win.
It was his first in almost a year, since May 17, 2015, when he was with the Phillies and beat the Diamondbacks. Before that, it had been since May 12, 2011, for the Royals against the Yankees.
The nomadic righthander has moved around quite a bit the last half-decade, from Kansas City to Omaha to Las Vegas to Tucson to San Diego to Lehigh Valley to Philadelphia (and back a few times) to Pawtucket to Boston, so this one was special.
O’Sullivan popped into manager John Farrell’s office after the game to inquire about obtaining the lineup card, or at least a copy of it, as a keepsake. He hoped to add it to his collection of souvenirs from his first wins with other organizations.
No one knows what the future will bring for O’Sullivan. Eduardo Rodriguez and Joe Kelly should be back from the disabled list in the next week or two, and O’Sullivan couldn’t say with certainty he’d even get the ball the next time this spot in the rotation comes up, Sunday at home against the Astros.
“I have no idea what’s going on, so I’ll just enjoy tonight and see what happens,” he said.
O’Sullivan scattered 12 hits (10 singles) in his six innings, striking out three — all in the fifth inning — and walking none. He worked around a number of hard-bit balls in the early going and got through five innings without allowing a run.
In the sixth, the A’s started to string some of those stingers together. All four of Oakland’s runs against O’Sullivan scored in a span of four batters.
O’Sullivan’s final output was remarkably close to his career 5.96 ERA entering the night.
“Everything we could’ve hoped. He kept the game in check. The offense did their job,” Farrell said. “He came out and threw strikes. I think the biggest thing is he helped his cause by not walking anybody. They took some good swings against him, but he got right back in the strike zone, forced them to swing the bat.”
O’Sullivan said the rough sixth inning was the result of a combination of factors. It had been 10 days since his last start, so by then, the third time through the order and 75 or so pitches into the game, he’d lost some of the strength in his lower half. The early-inning adrenaline had also disappeared. Together, it meant his pitches ended up higher — and more hittable — in the strike zone.
But with the offense as productive as it was, O’Sullivan was more than happy to pitch to contact all night. He finished with 91 pitches (61 strikes).
“I could see early tonight, these guys were going to be swinging. So for me to nibble around the zone was going to be counterproductive,” O’Sullivan said. “I thought I commanded the ball pretty well and tried to work at a quick tempo and keep our guys on their toes, try to get our guys back in the dugout with the way they were swinging.”
Tim Healey can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @timbhealey.