Mirabelli, the Boston backup catcher who started in place of Jason Varitek in Game 1 of Friday's doubleheader, caught Buchholz's lone start in Spring Training in March. So the team opted to have Mirabelli catch Buchholz's Major League debut on Friday.
For days, even weeks, the Red Sox laid the careful groundwork for the debut of Buchholz, their top pitching prospect. They started limiting his pitch counts as early as the All-Star break, anticipating a big-league callup late in the season. They prepared Mirabelli to catch the 23-year-old wunderkind, talking strategy with Pawtucket's manager, Ron Johnson, and catcher, Kevin Cash.
"We had kind of tried to work the whole weekend as much in advance as we could," manager Terry Francona said before Game 1, "and let everyone know where they were and when they were playing. So Dougie knew [he would catch]."
And then, he didn't. In the first inning, while rounding third base, Mirabelli pulled up lame. The diagnosis: a strained right calf. After the game, the Red Sox placed him on the 15-day disabled list and purchased the contract of 29-year-old catcher Kevin Cash from Triple-A Pawtucket.
So the 35-year-old Varitek, who had been slated to start the nightcap, took the catcher's crouch eight innings earlier than expected. He started Game 2 as well, catching both ends of a doubleheader. Varitek said he thought it was the first time he had done so since 1996 or 1997.
"It's been a while," he said.
Cash's flight from Ottawa, where Pawtucket was playing, was scheduled to arrive in Boston at 7:50 p.m. There would be "no police escort," general manager Theo Epstein said.
At the very least, Epstein added, injuries of Mirabelli's type tend to keep catchers off the field for two weeks.
"We'll see," he said. "Right now we're anticipating it'll be the full 15 days and not too much longer."
Given his experience catching Minor League knuckleballers Charlie Zink and John Barnes, Cash could presumably fill Mirabelli's old role as Tim Wakefield's personal catcher in the interim.
Back to the Minors: "This kid," said Francona of Buchholz before his Game 1 win, "can come up and pitch a no-hitter, and he's going to go back down."
When pressed on the issue, the Sox manager wouldn't budge.
"If he throws a no-hitter," Francona said, "I may send him back with a present. But he's going back."
The Red Sox decided long in advance to return Buchholz to the Minors after his big-league debut. Without an open spot in the rotation, his roster spot would at least have gone to waste in Game 2.
So, as expected, Boston optioned Buchholz back to Triple-A Pawtucket after the game and called up Jacoby Ellsbury to start in center field and hit leadoff.
"Nice day for the '05 Draft, with Clay starting, getting the win, Ellsbury leading off and starting in center field in the nightcap," Epstein said. "A feel-good day for our scouting department and player development."
Optioning Buchholz, who started the year in Double-A, ultimately made sense on a developmental level.
"Getting a guy here before he's ready and keeping him here before he's ready," said Francona, "is not development."
With the need for a roster move, why then go for a Minor Leaguer like Buchholz instead of an in-house option like spot-starter Julian Tavarez? In August, a team's innings calculus can force its hand.
"When you add a pitcher that's not on your roster, like a Buchholz, whatever he gives you is free innings," Francona said. "We have 18 innings to account for today, minimum. And if you go with Tavarez, [let's] say Tavarez gives you five. Which would be great. [But] you've eliminated five out of your bullpen and another pitcher. This gives you basically an extra pitcher, and it's a starter to boot, going into the doubleheader."
"It potentially can really help you," he said.
Here to win? Perhaps not surprisingly, acceptance in the clubhouse depends on a sense of place.
Francona explained why the Red Sox, a team of established veterans, have been kind to rookie second baseman Dustin Pedroia, who hit his sixth homer of the season in the eighth inning of Game 1.
"He understands, probably better than any rookie I've ever been around, [that] we're here to win," Francona said. "And because of that, I think, the veterans have really taken to him."
Beech ball: Francona didn't know all the details of an on-field attack by former Red Sox and current Long Island Ducks player Jose Offerman, who reacted to a beanball by wielding a bat at the pitcher and catcher. The incident has gained publicity for its brutality, and for the fact that Offerman was arrested after his ejection from the field.
But Francona did remember coaching Matt Beech, the pitcher in the incident, on his Phillies teams of the late-90s.
"It's just unfortunate," Francona said. "Scary. Beechy was a confident young kid, but a good kid."
When the Giants came to Fenway in June, Francona recalled an episode in which a younger Beech made a point of challenging Barry Bonds, only to surrender a towering homer.
On deck: Curt Schilling will get the start for the Red Sox on Saturday, helped to his customary rotation slot by Buchholz's spot start on Friday, and will oppose Jered Weaver of the Angels in a 7:05 p.m. ET start.
Alex McPhillips is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.Less