May 6, 2012; Boston, MA, USA; Boston Red Sox pitcher Darnell McDonald (54) reacts to giving up a three run home run to Baltimore Orioles center fielder Adam Jones (not pictured) during the 17th inning at Fenway Park. The Baltimore Orioles won 9-6. Mandatory Credit: Greg M. Cooper-US PRESSWIRE
I contemplated not writing this because who the hell wants to focus on losing that 17 inning nightmare on Sunday. The Sox just won on Monday so let's focus on that and try to distance ourselves as much as possible from Sunday's debacle. There's something to that, but there is a question that keep popping up in my head and I can't get rid of it.
To answer this question, let's go back a bit. Heading into the 17th inning with the score tied at 5-5, the Orioles had already put DH Chris Davis on the mound with surprising success (i.e. they hadn't immediately lost). The Red Sox had so far avoided that fate, but had used every arm in their bullpen except Mortensen.
Valentine had actually done a pretty good job of squeezing innings out of the pen. Here's the list of pitchers the Red Sox had used to that point:
- Clay Buchholz (3.2 IP)
- Andrew Miller (1.1 IP)
- Matt Albers (2 IP)
- Vicente Padilla (1 IP)
- Alfredo Aceves (2 IP)
- Franklin Morales (2 IP)
- Rich Hill (2 IP)
- Scott Atchison (2 IP)
That last takes us through the 16th inning which, honestly, is far more than any bullpen should ever be asked to do. The pen's totals to that point were 12.1 innings, 6 hits, 1 run (unearned), 4 walks, 11 strikeouts. That's impressive work. What's more, once the possibility of the game continuing indefinitely became clear, Valentine started to keep his relievers in longer (as did Buck Showalter).
In the 16th inning, Showalter had used seven pitchers out of his pen and felt that he couldn't ask closer Jim Johnson (his last guy out of the pen, by the way) to throw a third inning. He turned to DH Chris Davis. Davis responded by coming as close to allowing a run as he possibly could when Marlon Byrd was gunned down trying to score from first on a two out double by Mike Aviles. We can debate whether or not sending Byrd home was the right call (it sure wasn't the conservative call) but the point is the Red Sox came thisclose to scoring the winning run. With the heart of the order coming up against Chris Davis (!) in the 17th, well, you had to like the Red Sox chances.
To get there, all the Red Sox needed was one single inning more of scoreless relief work. And guess what? They were in luck, because, if Valentine didn't want to ask Scott Atchison to throw a third inning, they had one more guy left in the pen in Clayton Mortensen.
Valentine decided that he wouldn't ask Atchison to throw a third inning despite the fact that Atchison had thrown only 23 pitches in his two innings of work and that he wouldn't ask Mortensen to throw at all. He brought McDonald in and, in the most predictable ending ever, the Orioles scored three runs. Even against Chris Davis that was a fairly safe lead. Turned out it was and the Red Sox lost. Cue crying, swearing, stomping, etc.
So, back to the original question: why did Valentine leave Mortensen on the sidelines while the team, desperately in need of another inning of relief, turned to an outfielder to provide it?
I didn't hear it myself but I was told by a reliable source that Bobby Valentine said he didn't use Mortensen because of the 57 pitches Mortensen had thrown in the previous day's game. That's a reasonable answer. Protecting a pitcher's health, especially a reliever, is a big portion of Valentine's job. And maybe that was the right call. Fifty-seven pitches is a lot for a reliever to throw.
Let's go back two weeks from May 5th. On April 22nd Pawtucket was rained out. Mortensen didn't throw in the April 23rd game. On April 24th, Mortensen threw two innings consisting of 29 pitches. Then five days later on April 29th he tossed 41 pitches in 1.1 innings. His next outing came with the Red Sox on May 2nd on three days rest when he threw 3 innings and 47 pitches. Then finally we get to May 5th when Mortensen threw 57 pitches in 3.1 innings. Over the course of those two weeks, Mortensen threw 174 pitches over 9.2 innings. That may look like a lot and it is, but Scott Atchison over the same time period threw 141 pitches in 10.1 innings and Alfredo Aceves threw 110 pitches over 6.2 innings. Relievers throw a lot over short periods of time and then don't throw for a while.
Mortensen had thrown a lot of pitches, but this was the 17th inning of a very winnable game. If Atchison couldn't pitch any more (and I'm not sure why he couldn't go another inning or even another batter) then I think Mortensen needed to come in. Darnell McDonald entering the game as a pitcher has to be the very final of very last resorts because, well, you watched the game. Valentine could have protected Mortensen the next day. He could have given him the next five days off. They could have DL'd him. Whatever. They needed a win, and to do that they needed an inning from someone not named Darnell McDonald.
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Over the course of the 162 game regular season players need rest and relief pitchers are no different. But this game was entirely winnable. Doing so required one more scoreless inning and then the Red Sox would have another shot at a DH (or even some other position player) on the mound. Unless Clayton Mortensen and Scott Atchison both went to Valentine and told them, 'I'm sorry, but I just can't throw' then Valentine needed to keep one of them in the game. Not doing so wasn't the equivalent of giving up, but it sure was close.