BALTIMORE -- Ryan Lavarnway, with a big bat and catching skills that are still in the developmental phase, is considered to be an important part of the future for the Red Sox. But nobody could have imagined just how much he would contribute to the current state of affairs when he was thrust into the lineup on Tuesday night at Camden Yards.
With the season on the line, and regular catchers Jarrod Saltalamacchia and Jason Varitek banged up, Lavarnway stepped right into the spotlight and belted two home runs, lifting the Red Sox to an 8-7 victory over the Orioles.
Without Lavarnway's heroics, the Sox could have been staring at a one-game deficit to the Rays in the American League Wild Card standings heading into Wednesday's regular-season finale.
Instead, the clubs remain tied.
Manager Terry Francona could have forced the issue with Saltalamacchia, who injured his right collarbone on Monday. Instead, he felt Lavarnway was the best choice for this game, particularly with a lefty going for the Orioles in Zach Britton.
The move could not have worked out any better.
"He played his [butt] off," said Francona. "That was exciting. I thought, 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."
Lavarnway's performance included the first two homers of his career on the night he started at catcher for the first time in the Majors.
"Like I said, 3-1, I caught myself cheating a little bit, so, 3-2, I stayed within myself with a middle-of-the-field approach," Lavarnway said of his three-run shot that gave Boston a 5-1 lead.
Lavarnway also contributed with his arm, throwing out Adam Jones on an attempted steal of third in the second.
"I don't even remember it," Lavarnway said. "I was just reacting. I saw Jed tag him. I said, 'Oh, I must have made a good throw.'"
Lavarnway made another big throw in the ninth, pouncing on a tapper by Matt Wieters and firing to first, just in time.
Lavarnway had started seven games for the Sox previously, but all were at designated hitter.
This time, he was thrown into the fire -- and he responded.
"It definitely feels good," Lavarnway said. "It feels like I could wear the jersey with pride, especially a little bit more now that I've helped out and am contributing. That's what I wanted to do when I got here. I didn't want to just have a September callup that was meaningless. I'm glad I could help today."
Saltalamacchia has a sore right collarbone sustained when he was dinged by a foul tip. Varitek was hit on the right knee by a pitch in Sunday night's game against the Yankees and tried to start Monday, but he was too sore.
"He came out early today," manager Terry Francona said of Saltalamacchia. "He went out and threw. He actually threw the ball OK. He's going to go hit [in the cage]."
Perhaps Saltalamacchia will start Wednesday.
"Every game I want to play, especially when we're getting down to the wire," said Saltalamacchia. "We've got two games left. I definitely want to be in there, but at the same time, I want to make sure I'm 100 percent. I don't want to go out there and hurt the team. I need to be 100 percent. I need to be able to perform. I feel good. ... I feel like I can perform, but if it takes today to be 100 percent for tomorrow, then that's what we'll do."
Lowrie moves to cleanup spot against lefty
BALTIMORE -- For a while, Jed Lowrie became a forgotten man as left shoulder woes kept him off the field a lot of the time and limited his productivity at the plate when he did play.
But since undergoing a cortisone shot and returning to the lineup on Sept. 19, Lowrie has belted the baseball, hitting .357 with two homers and five RBIs.
He has been such a threat that manager Terry Francona inserted him into the cleanup spot for Tuesday's game against left-hander Zach Britton.
"They've got a bundle of guys down in their bullpen -- we're certainly willing to match up," said Francona. "We're trying to use the strength of Jed swinging against a lefty and get him in between David [Ortiz] and [Adrian Gonzalez]."
It was Lowrie's first career start batting fourth. He has started at every other spot in the batting order except the three-hole.
Does Lowrie remember the last time he batted fourth?
Probably Minor Leagues or college," said Lowrie. "[I'm] not a prototypical four-hole hitter. Gotta do what you gotta do."
As far as the shoulder issue that has plagued him since late May, Lowrie is trying to keep it out of his mind and just do what he can to play.
"It's getting it ready and [giving it] whatever I got," Lowrie said. "I'm not going to analyze every little thing about it right now. It's good enough to go, so that's all that matters. I think I'd be wasting my time and everybody else's time if I'm worried about analyzing what percentage it's at."
With a righty pitching on Wednesday, David Ortiz is likely to move back to fourth.
Francona keeping even-keeled approach
BALTIMORE -- Even as he endures what is easily his toughest regular-season stretch as manager of the Red Sox, Terry Francona continues to keep an even keel.
"I've got to be true to myself and what I believe in," Francona said. "It doesn't mean people necessarily agree with it. That's part of what's fun about baseball. But if I come in and overthrow the spread table, that's not me. The players know that. Sure they do. I feel like I feel. If we're going to struggle, I want to go through it with these players. I don't want to start pointing fingers. I do want them to know I'm going through this with them. That's how I feel. I've always felt that way."
Part of what Francona believes in most is tuning out external distractions and perceptions.
One reporter asked him what his interactions have been like with fans at the coffee shop.
"Well, I didn't go to the coffee shop," Francona said. "I didn't read the paper. I don't know. I don't care. I really don't [care]. What I care about is how we handle it. Whether you guys are writing that we're the second coming of sliced bread or we stink, that shouldn't enter into how we play. If it does, shame on us."