Lenny DiNardo went to the major league mountaintop in 2004. A 6-foot-4-inch lefthander from Florida, he was called to The Show by the Red Sox in April and made his major league debut in Yankee Stadium four days later, retiring the Bombers in order in the ninth inning of an 11-2 victory.
Before the year was over, he appeared in 21 more games, sang backup on ''Tessie" with the Dropkick Murphys, endured the standard rookie hazing when he was forced to wear a Hooters uniform through Canadian customs, and rode a Duck Boat on the Charles after the Sox won the World Series. He picked up a World Series ring, did the trophy tour, and performed at Hot Stove, Cool Music. He was an ancillary Idiot, a bit player in Boston Sports' Greatest Story Ever Told.
One thing he did not do was start a game or earn a decision. Last night, he did both. Stepping into the gap created by David Wells's big mouth, DiNardo took the ball and gave the Sox six serviceable innings in a 7-3 loss to the Orioles. He surrendered only one earned run, but left trailing, 4-3. DiNardo struck out six, walked one, and gave up seven hits. Sixty-four of his 91 pitches were strikes. He kept the ball down. Not bad for a first big league start.
''I thought he more than held his own," said Sox manager Terry Francona. ''When he locates the ball down, it's hard to get it up in the air. He's going to give your third baseman a lot of ground balls."
DiNardo spent much of this summer on the Lou Merloni/Kevin Youkilis Highway, getting the call from Boston fives times, while starting 22 games for Pawtucket. He appeared in only three games for the Sox before getting the nod as an emergency starter last night.
''I definitely had some butterflies," said the lefthander. ''And I think it showed."
He needed only 10 pitches and faced only three batters in the first. The Orioles reached him for three unearned runs in the second, then another run when the immortal Alejandro Freire punched a cheap homer inside Pesky's Pole in the fourth.
DiNardo made some of his own trouble. He surrendered seven hits and one walk in the first four innings. If not for a tough error on Bill Mueller, all four Oriole runs could have been earned.
The tall southpaw pitched his best in the fifth and sixth. He retired the last seven batters he faced, four on strikeouts.
''Later in the game, I was a lot looser and felt like I could just go out there and pitch," said DiNardo.
Anyone who's been watching this week knows that it's OK to give up four or five runs when you start for the Red Sox. There's still a pretty good chance they will win. Not last night. Boston managed only two hits over the first eight innings.
Francona put the Sox in a big hole after DiNardo left. He tried two guys named Chad (Bradford and Harville) and Matt Perisho, then summoned Keith Foulke in a two-run Oriole seventh.
''I thought that was enough," said the manager, when asked about pulling DiNardo early. ''The hope is that you set up your bullpen with a clean inning and it works well. I ended up making a lot of trips out there."
Before the game, several Sox starters recalled their first big league starts.
Bronson Arroyo, probably DiNardo's closest pal on the team, said, ''Mine was in 2000 with the Pirates against John Burkett and the Braves. I went five innings and gave up four runs and got a no-decision. It was kind of weird for me because I'd just been called up the day before. My first big league appearance was actually as a pinch hitter. I'd been hitting a lot at Triple A and was batting around .280, so I put my spikes on that first day. In the third inning, Gene Lamont sent me up to hit against Bruce Chen. I worked it to a full count, the grounded out to the mound."
Curt Schilling's first big league start was also his first big league appearance, and it came Sept. 7, 1988, at Baltimore's Memorial Stadium against the Red Sox. He allowed three runs on six hits in seven innngs of a no-decision. The game was played just over five weeks after minor leaguer Schilling was dealt to Baltimore with Brady Anderson in exchange for Mike Boddicker.
''It was a huge deal for me," recalled Schilling. ''My dad had just died, but my mom was there and my younger sister. It was my first week in the big leagues and I got to pitch against the team that had traded me. I remember everything. Wade Boggs was the first batter and I got him on a grounder to short. Steve Palermo was behind home plate. Marty Barrett got the first hit off me, a broken-bat single. And Ellis Burks hit the first homer off me."
Tim Wakefield said, ''My first start was against the Cardinals and I went nine and struck out 10. We [the Pirates] won, 3-2. It was on July 31, 1992. My first day in the big leagues."
DiNardo will have different memories.
''I got the first one under my belt," he said. ''A lot of my friends were in the stands. I was glad they came out to support me. Hopefully, the butterflies won't be there next time."
He may not get another start. He may go another season without his first major league win. But he's already got something Roger Clemens, Luis Tiant, Bill Lee, and Bob Stanley never got when they worked on the mound at Fenway. Lenny DiNardo's got the ring.
Dan Shaughnessy is a Globe columnist. His e-mail address is email@example.com.