SEATTLE -- After hitting 32 home runs in the minor leagues and two more in the big leagues in 2011, there was hope Ryan Lavarnway would emerge as an offensive force for the Red Sox in 2012.
Instead it’s been one struggle after another for Lavarnway, who has spent most of the season in the minor leagues, has played in fewer than two dozen games for the Red Sox and has been well under the Mendoza line for most of that time.
So Tuesday’s performance as a designated hitter, crushing a tie-breaking home run in the sixth inning to give Boston a 4-3 win over Seattle that snapped a seven-game losing streak, was good for the soul.
"This was supposed to be the year that I wanted to focus on showing what I could do defensively," Lavarnway said. "I expect a lot of myself, and I’m not used to struggling like this."
Lavarnway played in 83 games in the minor leagues with indifferent success at the plate, a decent .295 average but only eight homers for Pawtucket. A year ago, he had 18 bombs in just 61 games at Triple-A.
He was called up to the big leagues at the beginning of August and spent the next five weeks without a homer and had a .174 average coming into Tuesday.
On top of that, Boston had lost the first seven games on this road trip, and Lavarnway’s contribution was just three hits, one RBI and a .158 average.
So it’s safe to say he’s feeling better about things now.
"That helps cleanse the mind," Lavarnway said. "We needed that one a lot. I badly needed that hit."
The Sox’s needs were plenty entering the sixth inning. Boston was down 3-0 after the third inning, and starter Jon Lester had to get two strikeouts with two runners on in the fifth to keep the Mariners from breaking the game open.
But singles by Dustin Pedroia and Jacoby Ellsbury set up a three-run bomb for Cody Ross that tied the game. Two outs later, it was Lavarnway’s turn. Seattle starter Blake Beavan had gotten him twice but it didn't happen again.
"This is the first time I’ve had any kind of sustained struggle like this, going all the way back to high school," Lavarnway said. "I knew it was only a matter of time. And hitting is contagious. Once Pedey and Jacoby and Cody got us going, we were all feeling better."
Lavarnway further helped the mood of the Sox -- and himself.
It had been a long, long wait.
"I can’t put into words how much we needed this one," he said. "There is pressure when you play for the Red Sox."
Manager Bobby Valentine, talking before the game, said he sensed the pressure Lavarnway was feeling at the plate. That’s one reason he had him in the lineup as the DH. That way he didn’t have worry about catching, just about hitting.
"It’s a way for him to go up there and relax," Valentine said. "He doesn’t have to worry about anything else. He can just think about hitting."
The setup with Jarrod Saltalamacchia the catcher and Lavarnway at DH worked well enough that the Red Sox can be expected to trot it out there again. It’s easier now that the Red Sox have a third catcher, picking up Guillermo Quiroz from the Mariners. He’s played in the big leagues for five different teams and spent this year at Triple-A Tacoma, where he hit .278 with 15 homers.
Tuesday also was a big game for Andrew Bailey, who is another who hasn’t made huge contributions this year. He was supposed to be the Red Sox's closer, but he hasn’t been that until recently, after finally been able to put his injury troubles behind him.
"I feel 100 percent now," Bailey said after picking up his second save. "Obviously with the injury, this season’s been very frustrating. I’m hoping I can do this for a long time here."