Anatomy of a day in the Major Leagues

Baseball Reference tracks players with only one game in the Major Leagues in their “cup of coffee” database, a living monument to those who lived the dream for one day before sliding back down to the minors or leaving the game completely.

There are some memorable entries within. There’s Moonlight Graham, of course, the New York Giants right fielder made famous in Field of Dreams. The last player alphabetically, Charlie Zink, twirled his knuckleball for one start in Fenway Park in 2008, a frantic game the Boston Red Sox won 19-17 over the Texas Rangers.

I didn’t get to watch Zink’s start, but I was sitting in the center field bleachers when Che-Hsuan Lin made his major league debut earlier this season for the Red Sox against the Tampa Bay Rays. He came in as a defensive replacement for Cody Ross in center, then was sent back down to Pawtucket before getting a chance to bat. He should get another chance at some point, but, in baseball, little is guaranteed.

Not likely to be sent down so quickly is Will Middlebrooks, who, last night, made his major league debut, batting eighth and playing third base in place of an ailing Kevin Youkilis against the Oakland A’s. And right away, Middlebrooks looked like a Major Leaguer.

Wearing Boston’s throwback socks and no. 64 on his back, the same number Dustin Pedroia wore in his 2006 debut, Middlebrooks settled in quickly. His 10 o’clock snap across the diamond was vaguely reminiscent of Nomar Garciaparra’s in terms of style and velocity, though Nomar’s trademark split and leap is dialed down in favor of a compact delivery built for third base.

Of course, the most heralded part of his game is what he brings at the plate. In 24 games in AAA Pawtucket this season, Middlebrooks had nine home runs and an OPS of 1.057. And in four plate appearances, he showed all the poise of the major leaguer the Red Sox hope he becomes.

In his first at-bat, he showed enough discipline to not swing the bat, and took the walk. He then showed his speed off a bit, stealing second while Marlon Byrd was at bat. That speed was on display in his second plate appearance, legging out an infield single after staying alive on an 0-2 count.

The real stroke was on display next. With Jarrod Saltalamacchia on first base, Middlebrooks rapped a double down the right field line, pushing Saltalamacchia to third.

He struck out in his last plate appearance, with David Ortiz standing on second base. Alas. They can’t all be Casey Stengal.

But, the fun in Wednesday night’s game was watching the beginning of a Major League career. Last season, I got to see Middlebrooks play at McCoy Stadium, shortly after his promotion from Portland. And, just a few months later on the couch, I watched him go 2-for-3 with a walk on cable. That kind of narrative is a constant in the baseball timeline, and it’s also the dream.

Will he be a Hall of Famer, or an All-Star, or even a starter in three weeks? Who can say.  But he likely won’t be added to the cup of coffee table. He’ll be back in there tonight, and he deserves to be.

He might be sent down in a few weeks, but he’ll be back. He’s a Major Leaguer now. He even looks the part.

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