The Red Sox get back to work tonight, on the heels of their first day off in more than two weeks. They’ll face Oakland without Jacoby Ellsbury, who was placed back on the disabled list Friday with continuing soreness in his side.

It was a blow to the Red Sox, who have lacked Ellsbury’s speed at the top of the lineup.

Yet in baseball, as in life, you can often find a silver lining in bad news. In this case, that silver lining is Darnell McDonald.

McDonald is a career minor leaguer who had the ultimate stay of baseball execution when Ellsbury felt the soreness return last Tuesday at Tampa.

Sitting in his hotel room late in the afternoon, McDonald was thinking about the next chapter in his life. One night earlier he had been told the Sox were designating him for assignment, letting him go after five weeks with the team.

It was another challenge for a former first-round draft pick who has played more than 1,300 minor-league games over the course of 12 frustrating years.

Few Sox fans knew McDonald when he arrived in Boston April 20. But they knew him 48 hours later, after he had homered in each of his first two games with the team. It was a classic Fenway story, the unknown player becoming a cult hero overnight.

That story only gets better, now that McDonald will be sticking around for a while.

Last week in St. Pete, he said all the right things, thanking the Sox for giving him a chance and telling everyone how much he enjoyed his time with the club. That time had come to an end, a reminder that baseball is a tough business.

It was also a reminder that the Sox are shrewd businessmen. Once they made the decision to release McDonald, they chose to wait until just before game time Tuesday to make it official. After all, they technically didn’t have to make a move until the next game started. So they waited and made a last-minute change of plans.

Luckily, McDonald was waiting on a late flight out of Tampa. He was watching “The Book of Eli,” a post-apocalyptic movie starring Denzel Washington. They say truth is stranger than fiction, and Washington would have a hard time finding a script as outrageous as this one. While he watched the movie, McDonald’s phone rang. It was Terry Francona offering salvation.

“I got Mac on the phone and told him we were thrilled with the adjustments he’d made while he was gone and come on back, like we were teasing and hadn’t really meant it,” Francona said.

Make no mistake, the Red Sox mean what they say. And they wanted — needed — McDonald back as quickly as possible. the end of the game, he was back in the outfield. Within three days, Ellsbury was back on the DL and McDonald wasn’t going anywhere.

At some point, Ellsbury will return. And no one is suggesting McDonald will beat him out for a spot on the roster. Who knows what will happen by the time Jacoby returns? McDonald just keeps on playing, savoring every day he spends in the big leagues.

Sunday, he was batting second on the team with the second-highest payroll in baseball.

A team needs depth to make it through a long season. It needs guys like McDonald. Thanks to a little luck, and a little smart business planning, they still have him.


Tom Caron is the studio host for Red Sox broadcasts on the New England Sports Network. His column appears in the Press Herald on Tuesdays.


Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.