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McDonald mirage

Posted by Eric Wilbur, Boston.com Staff  April 21, 2010 09:06 AM

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When the pixie dust clears after Darnell McDonald's enchanting evening at Fenway Park, there is bound to be more finger-pointing.

Had McDonald not saved the Red Sox last night with his game-tying and game-winning heroics, the front-page histrionics would focus squarely on a number of topics including the Red Sox' fiasco behind the plate, Terry Francona's decision to lift David Ortiz for Mike Lowell in the seventh inning, Ortiz's conspicuous absence during the on-field celebration, and J.D. Drew's inability to hit anywhere in the lineup. With two swings though, McDonald transformed Fenway into a virtual Field of Dreams, save for the dead guys, tossing a cloak on the issues that bemoan these April Sox.

For one night, it was a mirage at Fenway Park, a reason to celebrate and appreciate the unpredictability of the game of baseball.

But make no mistake, there are curves ahead.

The Texas Rangers entered last night with six steals on the season, a number they surpassed rather quickly, swiping nine bags against Victor Martinez, who is quickly becoming baseball's running joke. Literally. You know other teams are aware of your deficiencies when Vladimir Guerrero - who stole two bases all last season, and had 10 dating back to 2007 entering last night - steals twice, that the opponents are shoving the matter down your throat.

Some of the blame last night falls on Tim Wakefield, of course. As Gordon Edes points out:

Teams have always taken liberties on the bases against Wakefield's knuckleball. They've stolen 422 times while being caught just 132 times, a success rate of 76 percent. But as recently as 2008, when Kevin Cash primarily caught Wakefield, the Sox nabbed 10 of 37 attempted base-stealers, a 27 percent success rate.

Last season, however, teams stole successfully 23 of 26 times, and this year it's a perfect 10 for 10.

Still, with anyone else on the mound, Martinez is 1-for-15. The next runner Jason Varitek throws out this season will be his first.

If that was a middling concern yesterday, today it is a glaring problem that needs immediate attention. If a team like the Rangers, who came into the game with one more steal than the Jacoby Ellsbury-less Sox, run rampant like that, it gives everyone else a serious game plan against you. Get on base, Run like mad.

I guess you could say, "Well, what did it get them? They lost the game anyway." And I would say, well, you got me there. Jolly show.

But it took a fairy tale ending for the Red Sox to pull it out. As much as we can vividly recall the days of Ortiz's prime, those evenings don't happen every night.

The DH's absence was awfully conspicuous as McDonald's teammates mobbed him on the Fenway field after his ninth-inning single capped the victory. Wasn't this the scene Ortiz played for fans countless times before? More than the high-five he game to Lowell upon being lifted, it stood as a symbol as to where Ortiz's career stands in Boston. Possibly over. Certainly over as the full-time DH (Lowell gets the start tonight and tomorrow against lefties Matt Harrison and "Lost" fanatic C.J. Wilson).

Once the centerpiece of such moments, the Greatest Clutch Hitter in Red Sox History was nowhere to be found. While his teammates celebrated Boston's best story of the season, he was in the clubhouse, getting dressed and sneaking through a back entrance.

The fascinating development will be Theo Epstein's approach to the situation. With so many needs this early in the season, can he afford to keep Ortiz on the club simply for the memories? As shrewd a businessman as he is, it will even be difficult for him when the moment eventually comes. In a lot of ways, Ortiz's roster spot could depend on what areas the Red Sox need to fix immediately if they don't start winning consistently.

Then, there's Drew: Seven walks, six hits in 45 at-bats. The best that can be said is that he's gotten on base three straight games, the worst: he's 2 for his last 26. Those sorts of streaks are going to happen with Drew's laissez-faire approach to the plate. Remember, Drew hit just .234 last April, and went through a .217 clip last July. Yet his ability to get on base and score over those stretches didn't deteriorate (11 runs in April, 15 in July). This month, Drew has scored just five times, once more than Varitek, who has 31 fewer at-bats.

Drew will come out of his slump, but odds are that nobody will really notice it. Instead of a string of power-filled outings like Ortiz gave us upon his return to somewhat normalcy last June, Drew will keep the same approach, steadily improve his numbers, and get back to the same vanilla presence he's always been. He's not going anywhere. Ortiz, we're not so sure about.

But no worries today. We're blinded by McDonald Magic, which is just fine.


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About the Author

Eric Wilbur is a Boston.com sports columnist who is still in awe of what Dana Kiecker pulled off that one time in Toronto. He lives in the Boston area with his wife and three children. Comments and suggestions for the best Buffalo wing spots are encouraged.

Contact Eric Wilbur by e-mail or follow him on Twitter.

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