Fortunately for both the Red Sox and McDonald, that opportunity came in April, with injuries to outfielders Mike Cameron and Jacoby Ellsbury. And as for a solidifying moment -- McDonald waited until one game before the All-Star break.
With two outs in the sixth inning and shortstop Marco Scutaro on second base, McDonald launched a Jesse Litsch offering deep to left field to break a scoreless tie. David Ortiz followed McDonald's momentum with a solo blast, helping propel the Red Sox to an important 3-2 series-clinching victory on Sunday afternoon at Rogers Centre.
The Sox enter the break with a 51-37 record, five games behind the Yankees in the American League East, and three games behind the Rays in the AL Wild Card race.
"We needed it," manager Terry Francona said of McDonald's clutch homer. "And then to have David following up. It looked like a breaking ball up and he took a gorgeous swing. To that point we hadn't done anything -- that was big."
After being held hitless through the first 5 2/3 frames by Blue Jays starter Jesse Litsch, Marco Scutaro ended the no-hit bid with a long double to center field.
With only their second runner of the day on board, it was McDonald's moment to shine. The Orioles' 2004 first-round Draft pick drove a 3-1 breaking ball from Litsch into the seats for his sixth homer of the season, giving the Sox a 2-0 lead. Ortiz, who will participate in Monday's State Farm Home Run Derby, then sent a ball deep to right. It was the second time this series the Red Sox have hit consecutive homers -- Kevin Youkilis and Adrian Beltre accomplished the feat in Friday's contest.
"It was a 0-0 game," said Litsch. "I'm just trying not to make a mistake or give up a home run. The hit [to Scutaro] came and then the home run came and another home run. That's pretty much the ballgame right there."
Due to a technical malfunction before the game, the Rogers Centre roof was only able to open halfway, making it difficult for hitters to see the ball leave the pitchers' hands. While the visibility got progressively better, McDonald said they were conditions he had never experienced.
"It was unbelievable," McDonald said. "That was probably the worst game I've ever played as far as dealing with the shadows. The thing is, it was tough for both teams. As you can see, [it was] a low scoring ballgame."
As for Ortiz's take on the poor visibility: "I just closed my eyes and swung."
Sox starter Daisuke Matsuzaka bounced back after a rough outing against the Rays, limiting the Jays to only two runs on six hits with no walks over six-plus innings. He threw 62 of his 88 pitches for strikes, chipping in five punchouts. The right-hander's only blemish was a two-run home run to Aaron Hill in the seventh.
"[We] basically took the same approach we did in his last start [against the Rays]," catcher Kevin Cash said. "He was good, we just had some funny plays. Today, he was outstanding -- he had everything going. I think with this team they're so aggressive you have to work inside, and every time I did, he got the ball where he wanted to."
Reliever Daniel Bard and closer Jonathan Papelbon combined for a scoreless three frames. For Papelbon, it was his 20th save of the season.
Beltre left the game in the sixth with a left hamstring injury. The All-Star was seen favoring the hamstring after running out a groundel to Jays shortstop Alex Gonzalez. Although Beltre pleaded with his manager to keep him in the game, Francona was not willing to take a risk and add to an already crowded disabled list. Eric Patterson entered as Beltre's replacement.
"It feels fine," Beltre said. "I should be able to play [in the All-Star Game on Tuesday], but can't say anything for sure yet."
While Beltre's short-term future remains uncertain, McDonald's is getting brighter by the day.
"Every day is special for me," he said. "It's been a great ride and by no means am I satisfied with what I've done. I'm definitely happy to be able to come out here and help the team win.
"I think there is still more to come."