Lavarnway steps up big in must-win game


Lavarnway steps up big in must-win game

By Sean McAdam 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 Follow Sean on Twitter at http:twitter.comsean_mcadam.

NLCS: Cubs eliminate Dodgers, reach Series for first time since 1945


NLCS: Cubs eliminate Dodgers, reach Series for first time since 1945

CHICAGO -- Cursed by a Billy Goat, bedeviled by Bartman and crushed by decades of disappointment, the Chicago Cubs are at long last headed back to the World Series.

Kyle Hendricks outpitched Clayton KershawAnthony Rizzo and Willson Contreras homered early and the Cubs won their first pennant since 1945, beating the Los Angeles Dodgers 5-0 Saturday night in Game 6 of the NL Championship Series.

The drought ended when closer Aroldis Chapman got Yasiel Puig to ground into a double play, setting off a wild celebration inside Wrigley Field, outside the ballpark and all over the city.

Seeking their first crown since 1908, manager Joe Maddon's team opens the World Series at Cleveland on Tuesday night. The Indians haven't won it all since 1948 - Cleveland and Cubs have the two longest title waits in the majors.

"This city deserves it so much," Rizzo said. "We got four more big ones to go, but we're going to enjoy this. We're going to the World Series. I can't even believe that."

All-everything Javier Baez and pitcher Jon Lester shared the NLCS MVP. Baez hit .318, drove in five runs and made several sharp plays at second base. Lester, a former World Series champion in Boston, was 1-0 with a 1.38 ERA in two starts against the Dodgers.

Deemed World Series favorites since opening day, the Cubs topped the majors with 103 wins to win the NL Central, then beat the Giants and Dodgers in the playoffs.

The Cubs overcame a 2-1 deficit against the Dodgers and won their 17th pennant. They had not earned a World Series trip since winning a doubleheader opener 4-3 at Pittsburgh on Sept. 29, 1945, to clinch the pennant on the next-to-last day of the season.

The eternal "wait till next year" is over. No more dwelling on a history of failure - the future is now.

"We're too young. We don't care about it," star slugger Kris Bryant said. "We don't look into it. This is a new team, this is a completely different time of our lives. We're enjoying it and our work's just getting started."

Hendricks pitched two-hit ball for 7 1/3 innings. Chapman took over and closed with hitless relief, then threw both arms in the air as he was mobbed by teammates and coaches.

The crowd joined in, chanting and serenading their team.

"Chicago!" shouted popular backup catcher David Ross.

The Cubs shook off back-to-back shutout losses earlier in this series by pounding the Dodgers for 23 runs to win the final three games.

And they were in no way overwhelmed by the moment on Saturday, putting aside previous frustration.

In 1945, the Billy Goat Curse supposedly began when a tavern owner wasn't allowed to bring his goat to Wrigley. In 2003, the Cubs lost the final three games of the NLCS to Florida, punctuated with a Game 6 defeat when fan Steve Bartman deflected a foul ball.

Even as recently as 2012, the Cubs lost 101 times.

This time, no such ill luck.

Bryant had an RBI single and scored in a two-run first. Dexter Fowler added two hits, drove in a run and scored one.

Contreras led off the fourth with a homer. Rizzo continued his resurgence with a solo drive in the fifth.

That was plenty for Hendricks, the major league ERA leader.

Hendricks left to a standing ovation after Josh Reddick singled with one out in the eighth. The only other hit Hendricks allowed was a single by Andrew Toles on the game's first pitch.

Kershaw, dominant in Game 2 shutout, gave up five runs and seven hits before being lifted for a pinch hitter in the sixth. He fell to 4-7 in the postseason.

The Dodgers haven't been to the World Series since winning in 1988.

Pitching on five days' rest, the three-time NL Cy Young Award winner threw 30 pitches in the first. Fowler led off with a double, and Bryant's single had the crowd shaking the 102-year-old ballpark.

They had more to cheer when left fielder Andrew Toles dropped Rizzo's fly, putting runners on second and third, and Ben Zobrist made it 2-0 a sacrifice fly.

The Cubs added a run in the second when Addison Russell doubled to deep left and scored on a two-out single by Fowler.


Maddon benched slumping right fielder Jason Heyward in favor of Albert Almora Jr.

"Kershaw's pitching, so I wanted to get one more right-handed bat in the lineup, and also with Albert I don't feel like we're losing anything on defense," Maddon said. "I know Jason's a Gold Glover, but I think Albert, given an opportunity to play often enough would be considered a Gold Glove-caliber outfielder, too."

Heyward was 2 for 28 in the playoffs - 1 for 16 in the NLCS.


Kerry Wood, wearing a Ron Santo jersey, threw out the first pitch and actor Jim Belushi delivered the "Play Ball!" call before the game. Pearl Jam front man Eddie Vedder and actor John Cusack were also in attendance. And Bulls great Scottie Pippen led the seventh-inning stretch.