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McDonald throw saves Sox victory

D. McDONALD A quick release D. McDONALD
A quick release
By Monique Walker
Globe Staff / July 6, 2011

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Game-ending plays at the plate don’t come around often for a guy like Darnell McDonald. At 32 years old, the Red Sox left fielder couldn’t think of a single time he ever made a throw to home that ended the game.

He can add a first to that list.

With closer Jonathan Papelbon one run away from blowing a three-run lead and a save against the Blue Jays, John McDonald drove a single to shallow left field with runners on first and second and two outs. Darnell McDonald charged the ball and fired to catcher Jason Varitek, who positioned his 6-foot-2-inch, 230-pound frame in front of home plate.

Edwin Encarnacion motored around third base as McDonald made his throw, which bypassed the cutoff and zipped toward Varitek. Encarnacion attempted to slide around Varitek but the catcher had the plate blocked and was able to tag Encarnacion for the out, giving the Red Sox a 3-2 win.

“I was just trying to get the ball in as quick as I could,’’ McDonald said. “Great job by the captain, blocking the plate there. I was just trying to get the ball in as soon as possible.’’

Blocking the plate doesn’t involve much strategy, according to Varitek. Much of what he did was dictated by the throw, he said.

“Darnell made a very good throw - a perfect throw,’’ Varitek said. “It saved us the game.’’

After the game, McDonald walked around the clubhouse wearing a No. 20 Celtics jersey. The name on the back - Shuttlesworth. McDonald said he had the jersey made after he met Celtics guard Ray Allen earlier this year.

Growing up, McDonald said he couldn’t get enough of the movie “He Got Game,’’ in which Allen played a high school basketball star named Jesus Shuttlesworth. The fictional character Allen played was a reality McDonald could relate to.

The Orioles drafted McDonald with their first-round pick (26th overall) out of high school in 1997. But he bounced around the minors before making his major league debut in 2004 with the Orioles. The moment didn’t last long.

It wasn’t until 2009, with the Reds, that McDonald was on his first major league roster on Opening Day. That same year, he hit his first major league homer.

In 2010, McDonald landed with the Red Sox and showed some pop, hitting .275 with nine homers and 34 RBIs in 117 games. He hoped to build on that this season and with Carl Crawford out with a hamstring injury and Mike Cameron no longer with the club, McDonald has seen more playing time the past few weeks.

But it’s been a struggle. He is hitting .125 and since he came off the disabled list June 14 because of a strained left quad, he is batting just .116 (5 for 43). A three-run homer Saturday night in Houston was a rare highlight.

“It’s been really tough,’’ McDonald said. “Obviously, I haven’t been effective at the plate. It’s just a long season and like I’ve said before, I’m going to do anything I can to help this team. When you’re not hitting, defense has [to be there].’’

Left field at Fenway Park can be tricky, and McDonald said he uses every opportunity to learn every aspect. Last night, he relied on his instincts and it helped the Sox get the win.

It was a combination of Varitek’s experience and McDonald’s arm that led to victory.

“That’s a heck of a way to end the game,’’ manager Terry Francona said.

Monique Walker can be reached at mwalker@globe.com.

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