BALTIMORE -- Ryan Lavarnway was supposed to have a front-row seat for the final days of this costume drama, nothing more.
Instead, the Yale philosophy major with the raw power of a pile driver hit two home runs as an emergency stand-in for injured catchers Jason Varitek and Jarrod Saltalamacchia as the Boston Red Sox held service in the American League wild-card race with an oxygen-draining 8-7 win over the Baltimore Orioles.
The Tampa Bay Rays beat the New York Yankees, 5-3, to remain tied with the Red Sox for the wild-card lead with Game 162 for both teams on Wednesday night.
If they remain tied after that, there will be a one-game playoff in Tropicana Field at 4:07 p.m. Thursday.
Lavarnway became the youngest Red Sox player to hit two home runs in a game since Nomar Garciaparra in 1997, at the exact same age, 24 years and 51 days.
Lavarnway hit a three-run homer in the fourth inning that gave the Sox a 5-1 lead, and a solo shot in the eighth that gave the Sox a seemingly safe 8-4 lead. But the Orioles scored twice in the eighth against Daniel Bard and another run in the ninth off Jonathan Papelbon before Papelbon, with the tying run on second, induced Adam Jones to ground out to third on the final pitch of a gripping 10-pitch at-bat.
Lavarnway shared star billing with Papelbon, who recorded his 31st save, and Alfredo Aceves, who has become the most indispensable man on the Sox's pitching staff, throwing 3 1/3 innings of one-run relief.