Lavarnway steps up big in must-win game

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Lavarnway steps up big in must-win game

By Sean McAdam
CSNNE.com Red Sox Insider Follow @sean_mcadam

BALTIMORE -- Each postseason seems to offer some unlikely heroes. Tuesday night, Ryan Lavarnway got a bit of a head start.

In the second-to-last game of the regular season, Lavarnway was called on to step in for the injured duo of Jarrod Salatalamacchia (bruised collarbone) and Jason Varitek (right knee contusion), making his first career start behind the plate.

Lavarnway more than rose to the challenge, clubbing two homers and knocked in four runs in the Red Sox' 8-7 thriller over the Baltimore Orioles.

"That was exciting," said Terry Francona. "Besides what he did offensively, I thought he ran the game, I thought he had a lot of poise. That was one of the more exciting things to watch. We've seen a lot of interesting things here over the years, but that was right at the top."

Unaccustomed to the spotlight, literally, Lavarnway was surrounded by reporters after the game and asked: "Where do I look? There's a lot of bright lights."

But he had no problem sharing the joy he felt in contributing in such a big way to a critical Red Sox win.

"It feels good," he said. "It feels like I can wear the jersey with pride, especially now that I've helped out, I'm contributing. That's what I wanted to do when I got here. I didn't want to have a September call-up that was meaningless, so I'm glad I could help today."

In his second at-bat of the night, Lavarnway came to the plate in the fourth with one out and two on against rookie lefty Zach Britton.

"I caught myself cheating a little bit on the 3-and-1 pitch," recounted the former Yale star, "and ended up checking my swing, so I just tried to stay short to the ball and stay up the middle."

He drove a pitch into the seats in left-center to turn what had been a slim 2-1 Red Sox to a 5-1 cushion.

In the fifth, he hit a tailing fly ball down the right-field line with the bases loaded. With the baserunners off with the swing, it seemed Lavarnway might have himself a three-run double, but Orioles right fielder Nick Markakis laid out and caught the ball just inside the foul line for the third out.

Three innings later, Lavarnway took no chances, homering to left for the second time and becoming the youngest Red Sox player to homer twice in the same game since Nomar Garciaparra did it in 1997. At the time of the homers, both were exactly 24 years and 51 days old.

He also did his share defensively. When the Orioles tried to run on him early in the game, Lavarnway cut down Adam Jones attempting to steal third base for the first out in the second.

Then, in the ninth, with the Sox protecting a two-run lead and a baserunner on third, Matt Wieters hit a dribbler between home and the pitcher's mound.

"I was going after it and I looked at Pap to see if he was going to get it or not," said Lavarnway. "The look he gave me was, 'You better field the ball.' I went after it. I kind of tripped a little as I was throwing it, but I got the ball to first base."

A run scored as he did, but Wieters was out and when Papelbon got Adam Jones at the end of an epic at-bat, the game was secured.

"To come up here in a tough situation like this," said Saltalamacchia, "and do so well -- he handled the staff well, called timeouts when he needed to, slowed the game down, the great play in the last inning -- was impressive."

Sean McAdam can be reached at smcadam@comcastsportsnet.com. Follow Sean on Twitter at http:twitter.comsean_mcadam.

MLB may make rule changes for '18 season

MLB may make rule changes for '18 season

PHOENIX - Major League Baseball intends to push forward with the process that could lead to possible rule changes involving the strike zone, installation of pitch clocks and limits on trips to the pitcher's mound. While baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred expressed hope the ongoing process would lead to an agreement, he said clubs would reserve the right to act unilaterally, consistent with the rule-change provision of the sport's labor contract.

Union head Tony Clark said last weekend he did not foresee players agreeing to proposed changes for 2017. Under baseball's collective bargaining agreement, management can alter playing rules only with agreement from the union - unless it gives one year notice. With the one year of notice, management can make changes on its own.

"Unfortunately it now appears that there really won't be any meaningful change for the 2017 season due to a lack of cooperation from the MLBPA," Manfred said Tuesday during a news conference. "I've tried to be clear that our game is fundamentally sound, that it does not need to be fixed as some people have suggested, and I think last season was the kind of demonstration of the potential of our league to captivate the nation and of the game's unique place in American culture."

Yet, he also added: "I believe it's a mistake to stick our head in the sand and ignore the fact that our game has changed and continues to change."

Manfred said while he prefers an agreement, "I'm also not willing to walk away." He said he will send a letter to the union in the coming days and plans to continue dialogue with Clark and others in hopes of reaching agreement.

Clark met with Cactus League teams last week, five at a time over Thursday, Friday and Saturday, before departing Monday for Florida to visit each Grapefruit League club - and proposed rules changes were a topic.

"I have great respect for the labor relations process, and I have a pretty good track record for getting things done with the MLBPA," Manfred said. "I have to admit, however, that I am disappointed that we could not even get the MLBPA to agree to modest rule changes like limits on trips to the mound that have little effect on the competitive character of the game."

Clark saw talks differently.

"Unless your definition of `cooperation' is blanket approval, I don't agree that we've failed to cooperate with the commissioner's office on these issues," he wrote in an email to The Associated Press. "Two years ago we negotiated pace of play protocols that had an immediate and positive impact. Last year we took a step backward in some ways, and this offseason we've been in regular contact with MLB and with our members to get a better handle on why that happened. I would be surprised if those discussions with MLB don't continue, notwithstanding today's comments about implementation. As I've said, fundamental changes to the game are going to be an uphill battle, but the lines of communication should remain open."

Clark added "my understanding is that MLB wants to continue with the replay changes (2-minute limit) and the no-pitch intentional walks and the pace of game warning/fine adjustments."

Manfred said he didn't want to share specifics of his priorities for alterations.

"There's a variety of changes that can be undertaken," Manfred said. "I'm committed to the idea that we have a set of proposals out there and we continue to discuss those proposals in private."

MLB has studied whether to restore the lower edge of the strike zone from just beneath the kneecap to its pre-1996 level - at the top of the kneecap. Management would like to install 20-second pitch clocks in an attempt to speed the pace of play - they have been used at Triple-A and Double-A for the past two seasons.

Players also have been against limiting mound meetings. The least controversial change appears to be allowing a team to call for an intentional walk without the pitcher having to throw pitches. In addition, MLB likely can alter some video review rules without the union's agreement- such as shortening the time a manager has to call for a review.

"Most of this stuff that they were talking about I don't think it would have been a major adjustment for us," Royals manager Ned Yost said.

Manfred said starting runners on second base in extra innings sounds unlikely to be implemented in the majors. The change will be experimented with during the World Baseball Classic and perhaps at some short-season Class A leagues. Manfred said it was a special-purpose rule "beneficial in developmental leagues."

Manfred also said Tuesday that a renovated Wrigley Field would be a great choice to host an All-Star Game and Las Vegas could be a "viable market for us."

"I don't think that the presence of legalized gambling in Las Vegas should necessarily disqualify that market as a potential major league city," Manfred said.