What does it say about a player when pinch-hitter is listed second on a three item list of his defensive positions? What does it say about the same player who appeared in two games, and despite said list of defensive positions, never played the field? What does it say about a player when he was a member of three different organizations within the same calendar year, the least time of which came with the Boston Red Sox? What kind of impact can a player like that — we’ll call him “Chase d’Arnaud” — have? In this case, more impact than anyone could ever imagine, assuming nobody anywhere in New England possesses a functioning imagination.
“Let me stop you right there.”
The Red Sox snagged d’Arnaud off waivers from the Atlanta Braves in the dead of night during a late April injury blizzard. Dustin Pedroia was having trouble with his knees, as was Pablo Sandoval who, it turned out, was also terrible. Brock Holt’s vertigo prevented him from helping out and Josh Rutledge was still in Triple-A recovering from a hamstring strain sustained while participating in ham-on-a-string exercises (unrelated) during Spring Training. All of a sudden, the Red Sox had no middle infielders they could play after Xander Bogaerts but, more importantly, they had no middle infielders they could not play. The Red Sox were all of a sudden a baseball team without this most important of commodities. Who was going to sit in the dugout, chat to nobody about things, and chew sunflower seeds?
Of course, the answer to their injury epidemic is obvious in retrospect: surgically remove the legs of every infielder on the roster and auction off the severed limbs for charity. Just think how one of Brock Holt’s legs would look in a plastic case adorned with a Red Sox logo up on your mantle? It’d be magnificent, and the Jimmy Fund would make a fortune. Strangely, that most clear of answers seemed to elude everyone, so, in lieu of that, the Red Sox went waiver wire dumpster diving to solve their problems. They came across some pretty sweet cardboard boxes, a few dead fish, Chase d’Arnaud, and bag of half-eaten cat crunchies.
You might not expect much of anyone acquired in such a manner, and certainly d’Arnaud was no different from those low expectations, but boy howdy he delivered on each and every low expectation. The Red Sox called on d’Arnaud during an early May game against the Twins. The Red Sox entered the ninth inning leading Minnesota 7-6, but the Red Sox quickly gained a small and precarious lead by scoring eight runs. After an infield single by Dustin Pedroia, manager John Farrell, looking down the barrel of a gun, turned to his best player.
“Get in there, d’Arnaud!” he probably didn’t ever shout.
“You got it, skip!” replied the ever-ready part-time pinch-hitter.
d’Arnaud took his place at first base and immediately began dancing dangerously off the bag. Twins pitcher Justin Haley threw over to first once, twice, three times, desperate to preserve the eight-run deficit for what he felt would be the Twins inevitable comeback during the bottom of the inning. But d’Arnaud’s wild dancing frustrated him. He threw over again and again and again and again, but each time d’Arnaud dove back just ahead of the tag. After Haley’s last throw, Twins first baseman Joe Mauer trotted over to Haley. “The kid’s just too good,” said Mauer. “Focus on the batter.”
“I can’t,” replied Haley. “I’m just too flummoxed. I’m going to have to throw a really bad pitch.”
“Well, uh, okay,” said Mauer, and handed Haley the ball. Haley’s next pitch was a meatball. Xander Bogaerts hit it for a triple, scoring Mookie Betts and d’Arnaud all the way from first, and extending the Red Sox lead to a comfortable 10 runs. The Red Sox were just able to hold on in the bottom of the inning. They won 17-6, all thanks to Chase d’Arnaud.
You might think that after such a performance the Red Sox might have started d’Arnaud, but they did not. Asked about it by reporters, manager John Farrell winked and grinned. “I like to keep my secret weapons where I can use them when I need them,” he said. Later that day against the Brewers, Farrell needed his secret once more. Trailing 6-1 in the top of the fifth inning, Farrell tried something radical. “This isn’t working,” he reportedly whispered to himself. “Think, John. Dammit, you’ve got to think!” With one out and the pitcher due up, it suddenly hit Farrell like a ton of bricks: d’Arnaud!
“Get in there, d’Arnaud!” he definitely didn’t ever say.
“You got it, skip!” replied the ever-ready part-time pinch-runner.
With d’Arnaud running up the steps, Farrell stopped him. “You’re going to need this,” he said, handing him a broom. “Was that supposed to be a bat?” d’Arnaud asked? “You guessed it,” chuckled Farrell. “I’m really not very good at this managing thing.” Thus inspired d’Arnaud stepped to the plate against possibly the best pitcher in the history of baseball, Wily Peralta.
Peralta’s first pitch was a 110 mph fastball on the corner. “Strike one!” shouted the umpire. His second pitch was a 120 mph fastball on the inside corner. “Strike two!” shouted the umpire. d’Arnaud stepped out of the box. He realized what he was up against. He knew how nobody had ever faced a more perilous situation in baseball, but he was determined. He cocked his bat and stood there watching as a 99 mph curveball draped itself around the plate. “Ball one,” said the umpire. Now d’Arnaud was ready. He stared out at Peralta who stared back, both knowing what was at stake, perhaps the most important fifth inning at-bat by non-rivals from different leagues in early May in baseball history.
Peralta reared back and fired. d’Arnaud took a mighty swing and hit a weak grounder up the middle. The second baseman fielded the ball, but his heart was heavy when he did, because he knew he could never catch d’Arnaud. Crossing the first base bag, d’Arnaud slowed and stopped before the enormity, the sheer gravity of what he’d done struck him. As his team mates raced from the dugout to mob him and the loudspeakers blared the theme to The Natural, d’Arnaud knelt gently in the grass, a single tear falling from his face. Somewhere, Robert Redford muttered, “No, that’s perfect,” as d’Arnaud was lifted and carried around the field by his teammates.
The next inning they took him out for Fernando Abad. That would be the last time d’Arnaud stepped on a playing field for the Boston Red Sox. Asked about his decision to release d’Arnaud, Team President Dave Dombrowski said, “When you love something, set it free.”
But I digress. On to his season recap!
What Went Right
He got an infield single in his only Red Sox at-bat.
What Went Wrong
What To Expect
Thanks for reading.
Photo by Jeff Hanisch — USA TODAY Sports