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.

Red Sox celebration quickly washes away walk-off loss

Red Sox celebration quickly washes away walk-off loss

NEW YORK -- It had the potential to be the most awkward celebration ever.

In the top of the ninth inning at Yankee Stadium, before their game was complete, the Red Sox became American League East champions, by virtue of one other division rival -- Baltimore -- coming back to beat another -- Toronto -- in the ninth inning.

That eliminated the Blue Jays from the division race, and made the Sox division champs.

But that ninth inning reversal of fortune was about to visit the Red Sox, too.

Craig Kimbrel faced four hitters and allowed a single and three straight walks, leading to a run. When, after 28 pitches, he couldn't get an out, he was lifted for Joe Kelly, who recorded one out, then yielded a walk-off grand slam to Mark Teixeira.

The Yankees celebrated wildly on the field, while the Red Sox trudged into the dugout, beset with mixed emotions.

Yes, they had just lost a game that seemed theirs. But they also had accomplished something that had taken 158 games.

What to do?

The Sox decided to drown their temporary sorrows in champagne.

"As soon as we got in here,'' said Jackie Bradley Jr., "we quickly got over it.''

From the top of the eighth until the start of the bottom of the ninth, the Red Sox seemed headed in a conventional celebration.

A two-run, bases-loaded double by Mookie Betts and a wild pitch -- the latter enabling David Ortiz to slide into home and dislodge the ball from former teammate Tommy Layne's glove --- had given the Sox a 3-0 lead.

Koji Uehara worked around a walk to post a scoreless walk and after the top of the ninth, the Sox called on Craig Kimbrel, who had successfully closed out all but two save opportunities all season.

But Kimbrel quickly allowed a leadoff single to Brett Gardner and then began pitching as though he forgot how to throw strikes. Three straight walks resulted in a run in and the bases loaded.

Joe Kelly got an out, but then Teixeira, for the second time this week, produced a game-winning homer in the ninth. On Monday, he had homered in Toronto to turn a Blue Jays win into a loss, and now, here he was again.

It may have been a rather meaningless victory for the Yankees -- who remain barely alive for the wild card -- but it did prevent them the indignity of watching the Red Sox celebrate on their lawn.

Instead, the Sox wore the shame of the walk-off -- at least until they reached their clubhouse, where the partying began in earnest.

It had taken clubhouse attendants less than five minutes to cover the floor and lockers with plastic protective sheets. In a matter of a few more minutes, the air was filled with a mix of beer and bubbly.

President of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski wore a goggles and only socks on his feet.

As the spray reached every inch of the clubhouse, David Ortiz exclaimed: "I'm going to drown in this man.''

Defeat? What defeat?