Opportunity came knocking with the Tigers' organization, and on Tuesday night, so did the big leagues. It just wasn't in the form some might have expected.
"It's kind of a feel-good story for me to look back on," the 27-year-old left-hander said. "I came so far from that moment, just to being so close to not making it and then being here right now."
By "not making it," he wasn't talking about the roster.
Downs could have left the game entirely, if not worse, thanks to a horrific drive that hit the right side of his head during a start at Double-A Montgomery in the Rays' organization. The damage paralyzed the right side of his face for a while and left him unable to speak for several days.
He was in the hospital, he said, for about 2 1/2 weeks. His return to normal activities took a lot longer, even before he could begin playing baseball again the next spring.
"It was a very tough recovery, to say the least," Downs said. "Post-concussion syndrome was not my friend. I mean, I was kind of depressed. I was tired all the time, I slept. I was like, 'I'm not going to play again, I'm scared to go back out there.' But eventually I got back out there and said, 'Heck with it.'
"I started going through rehab and stuff and tried to get my stamina back and everything, and once I got to Spring Training, I was a little timid throwing live [batting practice] and everything. After that, I was just like, 'Whatever's going to happen is going to happen. It's like one in a million. How many guys today will throw a pitch and nothing happens?' I just kind of took it like that and got after it."
Downs had an outstanding 2010 season between Double-A and Triple-A, but became a Minor League free agent. After spending last year in the Marlins' system, he found interest early in the offseason from the Tigers, the hometown team for his parents.
It took yet another go-around on the Tigers' roster carousel, this time prompted by Max Scherzer's scratch from his scheduled start Tuesday, but Downs got the call. He had just left Fifth Third Field in Toledo, heading back to his apartment, when manager Phil Nevin called him around 11:30 p.m.
"He didn't really directly tell me," Downs said. "He said, 'Come back, we have to talk.' I knew something was going on, something good by the tone of his voice. I just headed back hoping something was going to happen. And I'm here now."