Lavarnway Saves The Day
Lavarnway homered twice in the Boston win.
Lavarnway homered twice in the Boston win.

Posted Sep 28, 2011

And a rookie shall lead them. Teetering on the brink of the worst September collapse in baseball history, the Red Sox got a one-night reprieve.

For that, they could thank 24-year-old catching prospect Ryan Lavarnway, who hit his first two major league homers in his first career start behind the plate Tuesday night against the Baltimore Orioles.

And still, he had to make a critical defensive play in the ninth inning to lift the Red Sox to an 8-7 victory that kept them tied for the wild-card lead with the Tampa Bay Rays, 5-2 winners over the New York Yankees at Tropicana Field.

"He played his (butt) off," manager Terry Francona said. "That was one of the more exciting things to watch, and we've seen a lot of interesting things here over the years. That was right near the top."

Lavarnway played only because catchers Jarrod Saltalamacchia (bruised collarbone) and Jason Varitek (bruised knee) could not. And so, the Red Sox were left with Lavarnway, their top catching prospect who entered with only 30 career at-bats.

"It feels like I could wear the jersey with pride, especially a little bit more now that I've helped out and am contributing," Lavarnway said. "That's what I wanted to do when I got here. I didn't want to just have a September call-up that was meaningless. I'm glad I could help."

After Jacoby Ellsbury's two-run homer gave the Red Sox a 2-1 lead, Lavarnway came to the plate in the fourth inning and flailed at a 94 mph fastball from Orioles rookie lefty Zach Britton. But he got another heater and shot a laser into the left field seats, stretching the lead to 5-1.

In the eighth, Lavarnway added a solo shot against lefty reliever Zach Phillips to stretch the margin to 8-4, and the Red Sox needed every bit of breathing room, especially after struggling setup man Daniel Bard gave up two runs in the eighth.

Lavarnway's biggest play came in the ninth with closer Jonathan Papelbon on the mound. With the tying run on base and one out, Matt Wieters hit a dribbler down the first base line. Lavarnway chased it, and as he fell to his knees, made a throw to first to secure an out.

"I looked at Pap to see if he was going to get it or not," Lavarnway said. "The look he gave me was, 'You'd better field this ball.'"

Said Saltalamacchia, "That's one of the toughest plays. You're going to first base. You're in an awkward position to throw. That play right there put us in a situation where we're looking good still."

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