Commentary

Bulldog battery helps Sox stop Yanks

Yalies Craig Breslow, Ryan Lavarnway induce key double play in eighth inning

Updated: August 19, 2012, 2:55 AM ET
By Gordon Edes | ESPNBoston.com

NEW YORK -- American presidents? Check. Supreme Court justices? Check. U.S. Senators, Congressmen, governors, mayors? Check. Nobel prize winners? Check. Captains of industry, giants of the arts, geniuses of science? Check, check, and check again.

Yale has had 'em all, in multiples.

[+] EnlargePedro Ciriaco
AP Photo/John DunnPedro Ciriaco turns the 3-6-3 double play induced by Craig Breslow and Ryan Lavarnway.

But a major league baseball game with Craig Breslow, an Eli pitcher with a degree in molecular biophysics, throwing to Ryan Lavarnway, an Eli catcher who majored in philosophy? Now that's historic.

It happened in the eighth inning Saturday in Yankee Stadium, and is the only verified occasion in which one Yalie pitched to another in a big league game.

There is some evidence of a Yale-only hookup on Sept. 15, 1883, when Jack Jones of the Philadelphia Athletics pitched to Al Hubbard, in what was Hubbard's only appearance as a catcher. Breslow has six years in the big leagues. Lavarnway is a Red Sox rookie of considerable promise. The battery of Jones-Hubbard? Sorry, a distant second, if not an outright illusion.

Even Bobby Valentine was humbled by the moment.

"I got a lot smarter having them out there," said Valentine, words the Boston Red Sox manager is not accustomed to uttering after a ballgame.

Breslow made him look positively brilliant when he threw two pitches, the second a down-and-away cutter that Robinson Cano of the Yankees swung over and topped to Red Sox first baseman Adrian Gonzalez, who started an inning-ending double play that helped preserve what became a 4-1 Red Sox victory over the New York Yankees.

What was the conference like on the mound after Valentine summoned Breslow from the bullpen?

"I don't talk to those guys," said Valentine, more than willing to play straight man for reporters happily seizing upon an angle that had nothing to do with roundtable meetings, purported player revolts, and managers under fire.

"[Breslow] is such a competitive kid, you wouldn't know he carries those kinds of degrees around," added the manager, who as a fellow native of Connecticut knew Breslow before this go-round with the Sox and has done charity work with him. "He's all about competing."

The day had some unrelated-to-his-alma-mater meaning for Lavarnway, too. This was the first time he has caught in Yankee Stadium, only the third game he has caught this season, and the first Sox victory this season in which he has been behind the plate. Red Sox starter Jon Lester lavished praise on him.

"Varny did a great job back there," said the Sox left-hander, who held the Yankees to a single run over seven innings. "We were on the same page pretty much the whole game. He was able to slow a lot of things down for me, especially the first two innings when I was trying to get my rhythm, get more comfortable. It was good to see that back there from Varny."

Lavarnway, asked what most impressed him about Lester on Saturday, replied: "He had a really good bulldog mentality."

Now that was a pun -- unintentional, Lavarnway insisted afterward -- that the old first baseman and captain of the Bulldogs baseball team, George H.W. Bush, would have appreciated.

"I met him once, at a leadership conference at Yale," Lavarnway said of the former president (Yale, '48).

Did they talk sports? Politics?

"I was just happy to meet him," Lavarnway said. "An American hero."

But sure, Lavarnway was well aware of the attention it would receive when he and Breslow formed an all-Eli battery.

"I definitely look at him first as a baseball player, second as a friend, and third as a Yale alumni," Lavarnway said. (And please don't email to clean up an Ivy Leaguer's grammar in a postgame interview -- alumnus, it is.)

"He's been great to me since before I got drafted, coming back, talking to me about making the transition to pro ball. He came in and knew exactly what he wanted to do, and did it."

For his part, Breslow answered on cue when someone said to him that he pitched like a bulldog.

"Thank you, thank you," he said. "I guess Ryan caught like a bulldog.

"It was something I didn't think about 'til afterward, but it was pretty neat. It speaks to the brand of baseball that the Ivy League is turning out right now, and hopefully that's something it will be a part of for a long time. ... There's probably a baseball coach in New Haven who is pretty proud."

Indeed, John Stuper, the Yale coach and former Cardinals pitcher, already had texted congratulations to Lavarnway. Chances are that once Breslow checked his cellphone, a similar message would be waiting for him, too.

Breslow, who passed on going to medical school to chase a baseball career, was more than happy to offer a recruiting pitch for his old coach.

"I think it speaks for the fact that you can go to a place like Yale, get a great education, and not have to give up your dream of playing professional baseball."

Gordon Edes

Red Sox reporter, ESPNBoston.com

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