In the seventh inning of a close game against the Columbus Clippers on Wednesday, Pawtucket Red Sox manager Arnie Beyeler pulled his best player out of the game. Ryan Lavarnway ’09 was not injured — he had just been promoted to the MLB.
Lavarnway, 24, was called up from the Triple-A Pawtucket, Rhode Island Red Sox to Boston after Boston first baseman Kevin Youkilis was placed on the disabled list with a sore back. The former Yale star, who made his first MLB appearance Thursday, earned his promotion after hitting .293 with 30 home runs and 85 RBIs between Pawtucket and the Double-A Portland Sea Dogs this season.
Those numbers meant sports writers had spent weeks debating when, not if, Boston would call up Lavarnway. The news nonetheless surprised the catcher, who was batting seventh as the starting designated hitter for the Red Sox fewer than 24 hours after being pulled from the Pawtucket game.
Not only was Lavarnway in the MLB, but also he had joined a team locked in a close battle with the New York Yankees for the best record in the American League.
“It was bad on the plane,” Lavarnway said in a press conference before his first game, in reference to his trip to join the Red Sox in Kansas City. “Knots in my stomach. But now that I’m here, it’s back to business. The routine of the day will help me get back into it.”
Lavarnway was called up too late in the day on Thursday for his family — which lives in California — to come watch his Major League debut. But his parents were on hand the next day, when Lavarnway shook off an 0-for-4 outing in his first game and made his first MLB hit: a sharp grounder into right field in the fifth inning of a 7–1 Boston win.
Lavarnway admitted in a postgame press conference that he felt “relief” after the first hit, and built on that feeling with two singles and an RBI Saturday night, as Boston lost to Kansas City.
Boston manager Terry Francona has said that hitting production is exactly what he wants from his most recent call-up, who has been catching since before his Yale days but is weak defensively.
“We have catching, but we can hopefully use his bat,” Francona said in a press conference on Thursday, adding, “He’s worked so hard on his catching — he has kind of actually probably turned into an average catcher, because that’s where he had some work to do. You might not see him catch while he’s here, but he’ll hopefully hit a few home runs.”
Lavarnway has been known for his dangerous hitting since his days in Yale Blue. He led the NCAA with a .467 batting average and .873 slugging percentage in 2007, and owns Ivy League records for a 25-game hitting streak and 33 career home runs.
Boston drafted the philosophy major 202nd overall in the sixth round of the 2008 MLB entry draft, and Lavarnway left Yale before graduating in order to pursue a professional baseball career.
Lavarnway spent just under four years in the minor leagues before making the team in Boston.