It's like he never left

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. -- There is a time and a place when only the hoariest of clichés will suffice.

So yes, for journeyman outfielder Darnell McDonald, it really was déjà vu all over again, which only begins to explain how a Red Sox player who was saying his goodbyes Monday night wound up back on the team less than 24 hours later.

Monday night, with outfielder Mike Cameron set to come off the disabled list after missing five weeks with an abdominal tear, manager Terry Francona broke the news to McDonald that he had been designated for assignment to create an opening for Cameron.

Less than 90 minutes before the start of Tuesday night's game, Francona was on the phone to McDonald, asking him to come to the ballpark. The team had changed its mind. Outfielder Jacoby Ellsbury was being checked out by doctors after reporting some soreness following a session in the batting cage, and the Sox needed an outfielder.

McDonald had not yet been officially DFA'd, so he was still on the roster. The Sox had elected to DFA a relief pitcher, Scott Atchison, instead.

"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.

It was a stroke of fortune that McDonald was still in town. He'd booked an evening flight to Boston and was still in the team hotel.

"I made sure to get a night flight,'' he said. "I'm known for oversleeping.

"I was trying to watch 'The Book of Eli,' and I fell asleep. The phone was on vibrate. I don't know how I got up. I saw it was Tito. I thought maybe it was a trade or something. He kind of explained the situation, and I thought, it's another day like the first one.''

This is where the story turns a little spooky. When the Sox first decided they might need McDonald, who at the time was playing for Triple-A Pawtucket, it was back in April, right after both Ellsbury and Cameron had gotten hurt. The Sox weren't sure they would activate McDonald, so after flying him back from Rochester, N.Y., they'd stashed him in a hotel room near the ballpark and told him to sit tight.

Just before the game, Ellsbury took batting practice, said he was still hurting, and McDonald was summoned to Fenway, where he wound up hitting a game-tying home run and a game-winning walk-off single in his Sox debut. That was April 20.

So when McDonald got another call from Francona just before Tuesday's game against the Rays and the word came that Ellsbury was hurt and he was needed, all he could think of was: flashback.

"I made sure I wasn't dreaming,'' he said. "I was in a pretty deep sleep. I'm talking to Tito, feeling a little knocked out. I hung up with him, looked again to make sure he really called me, and things like that.

"It was kind of ironic, like the first night, when I was hoping to get an at-bat. I talked to Tito before the game, he asked, 'Are you ready to go?' I said, 'Yeah, I'm ready.' A flashback to the first game -- 'I'm ready.'''

Both the Sox and McDonald had assumed his days with the club were over.

"Yesterday was a tough day for me, even though I knew what the circumstances were,'' said McDonald, a No. 1 draft pick in 1997 who before this season had appeared in a total of 68 games in the big leagues for three teams, all in cameo roles.

Under similar circumstances, players told they were no longer wanted have been known to indulge in an adult beverage or two, or 20.

"Actually,'' Francona said, "my first question to him was, 'We're so glad to have you back, but do we need to stay away from you?' He said, 'No, I was sleeping.' I can't say I would have blamed him.''

McDonald arrived less than a half-hour before the game, and this time there would be no walk-off heroics. With the Sox in command all the way in a 2-0 win over Tampa Bay, McDonald's contribution was to serve two innings as Jeremy Hermida's defensive replacement in left field.

With Ellsbury's status highly uncertain -- the outfielder underwent X-rays and a CT scan for a spot on his left side, Francona said, different from where he'd sustained hairline fractures of four ribs -- McDonald is likely to be kept around awhile.

"I love being here,'' he said. "I love being part of this team.''

As for Denzel Washington and the unfinished "Eli"?

"I put it on pause,'' he said. "I'll actually go back after we're done and watch it. Any Denzel movie is never boring.''

Gordon Edes is ESPNBoston.com's Red Sox reporter. He has covered the Red Sox for 12 years and has reported on baseball for 25 years. Ask a question for his next mailbag here.