Sox straighten out, stay tied with one to go
BALTIMORE - Ryan Lavarnway was supposed to be along for the ride this month, a 24-year-old rookie catcher whose job would be to listen and learn in preparation for next season.
Then Jason Varitek was hit in the right knee by a pitch on Sunday before Jarrod Saltalamacchia was struck on the collarbone by a foul tip on Monday. All of a sudden, the staggered Red Sox had little choice but to start Lavarnway behind the plate in a crucial game last night.
A team in search of a savior found one. Lavarnway hit his first two major league home runs and drove in four runs to lead the Sox to an 8-7 victory against the Orioles.
A Yale graduate with a degree in philosophy, Lavarnway did not mask his emotions afterward.
“It definitely feels good,’’ he said. “It feels like I could wear the jersey with pride now, especially a little bit more now that I’ve helped out and I’m contributing. That’s what I wanted to do when I got here. I didn’t just want to have a September call-up that was meaningless.’’
Now the season comes down to one more game. The Rays beat the Yankees, 5-3, to stay tied with the Sox atop the American League wild-card standings at 90-71.
If the teams are tied after tonight, they will meet in a play-in game tomorrow afternoon at Tampa Bay.
“I think it’s really good for baseball, not so good for my stomach,’’ Sox manager Terry Francona said. “It’s exciting. If you don’t want to show up tomorrow and play, you got no pulse. My goodness, I can’t remember being that nervous in a long time.’’
The other hero was Alfredo Aceves, who allowed one run over 3 2/3 innings of relief as the Sox won for only the seventh time in 26 games this month.
Aceves (10-2) turned an 8-4 lead over to Daniel Bard in the eighth inning. But Bard, who has an 11.70 earned run average this month, allowed two runs.
Jonathan Papelbon picked up his 31st save to keep the Sox tied with the Rays for another day.
It was not easy, of course. Nothing has been for the once-mighty Sox for weeks now.
Papelbon allowed a run on two hits before getting Adam Jones to ground to third with the tying run on second to finally end the torture for fans watching back in New England. It was the 10th pitch of the at-bat.
“I enjoy that,’’ Papelbon said. “That’s baseball, man. It doesn’t get any better than that. I was having fun.’’
Papelbon praised Lavarnway for his role in securing the game.
“The kid showed a tremendous amount of poise,’’ he said. “Wow, impressive night for him, top to bottom.’’
Lavarnway become the youngest Red Sox player to hit two runs in a game since Nomar Garciaparra in 1997. Both were 24 years, 51 days old. He had a three-run shot in the fourth and a solo homer in the eighth.
Lavarnway also handled his duties behind the plate seamlessly. He threw out Jones trying to steal third in the second inning and in the ninth made a strong play on a tapper in front of the plate to throw out Matt Wieters.
“That was exciting,’’ Francona said. “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. That was right near the top.’’
Saltalamacchia said he and Varitek offered as much counsel as they could in the dugout.
“Ryan took command of that game,’’ Saltalamacchia said. “What a great job. He slowed the game down and everything he had to do. We’re so proud of him.’’
Jacoby Ellsbury, who hit a two-run homer in the third, and Lavarnway helped give Sox starter Erik Bedard a 5-1 lead.
Bedard got through the third inning but not the fourth. Wieters had a two-run homer in the fourth before Bedard put two more runners on. That’s when Francona called on Aceves.
Sox starters have a 7.28 earned run average in the last 23 games. Bedard’s 3 1/3 innings marked the 12th time this month a starter did not get through five.
But Aceves held the Orioles up long enough for the Sox to hold their lead.
“I want the ball. I want to help this team,’’ said Aceves, who has a 2.63 ERA in 54 appearances after being signed just before spring training. “If I wake up tomorrow, like I said, I will pitch again.’’
Home runs by Marco Scutaro and Lavarnway gave the Sox an 8-4 lead. Bard and Papelbon faltered but this time the Sox held on.
The season continues.
“I expect Tampa to win tomorrow and I expect us to win tomorrow,’’ Papelbon said. “It’s the way it’s going to be from here on out.’’