UPDATE: YES, IT HAPPENED
Despite overwhelming odds against all the necessary circumstances happening simultaneously, relief pitcher Craig Breslow faced batter Ryan Lavarnway in the Boston-Baltimore game on Sunday, April 26th. The first such confrontation ever between two former Yale players in a major league game came during a six run seventh inning in Baltimore. Lavarnway, who had two hits in earlier plate appearances, struck out swinging on a 2-2 pitch. Although Breslow prevailed this time, Lavarnway had the last laugh as the Orioles beat the Red Sox, 18-7.
If it is ever going to happen, this weekend could be the time. IT, in this case, would be a milestone for Yale baseball and a footnote in Major League history.
Craig Breslow is a relief pitcher for the Boston Red Sox. Ryan Lavarnway is a backup catcher on the Baltimore Orioles, and plays infrequently. Both of them were on Yale teams under Coach John Stuper, although in different years.
Lavarnway, the all-time Ivy League leader in home runs, played from 2006 to 2008. Breslow was a Bulldog from 1999 to 2002, after starring in baseball and soccer at Trumbull (CT) High School. As a senior at Yale he led all Ivy League pitchers with a 2.62 ERA.
What “it” is and how it could happen
The Red Sox and Orioles meet in a three game series in Baltimore on Friday, Saturday and Sunday. Here’s what must develop and why it’s a long shot.
1) Manager Buck Showalter decides to give his regular catcher, Caleb Joseph, a rest in one of the games and puts Lavarnway behind the plate.
2) Craig Breslow is called upon by Boston skipper John Farrell to relieve.
3) Ryan Lavarnway has a turn at bat.
If all that should occur together, it would result in the first, only, and probably last time a Yale man would be pitching to another Yale man, with each wearing a major league uniform. If nothing else, for the sake of sports trivia buffs, it would be a good question and answer. It would also create some unique publicity for the Bulldogs.
It might have happened before, but didn’t
Actually, it could have happened several days ago on Patriots Day, when Lavarnway was catching for Baltimore and Breslow was in the Boston bullpen. But that game was curtailed after a long rain delay, so we’ll never know.
Sam Rubin, author of Baseball in New Haven, and an assistant in the Yale Sports Information Office, told me in an email that he is not aware of there ever having been a Yale pitcher-batter confrontation in the big leagues.
“I do recall,” he said, “that a few years ago, when Breslow was with the A’s and they were playing at Boston when the Red Sox had Lavarnway, we sent one of our writers up there to cover a possible meeting of the two. But the Red Sox sent Lavarnway down before the series started.”
This Yale battery that was nationally televised
Eventually, while Lavarnway was on the Pawtucket-Boston shuttle, he and Breslow were teammates. They first hooked up as a battery at Yankee Stadium on August 18, 2012. In the eighth inning , with one out, Nick Swisher was on first base after hitting a single.
Boston was leading 2-1, the dangerous Robinson Cano was the Yankees’ batter, and Red Sox manager Bobby Valentine called in Breslow for a lefty-lefty matchup. Lavarnway was behind the plate, and thereby the first all-Yale battery in the modern baseball era came to pass. To make it even better, that game was nationally televised, and announcer Jack Buck immediately made mention of the occurance.
It lasted only two pitches, which was good for the Red Sox and bad for the Yankees. On Breslow’s second delivery (a cutter), Cano grounded to the first baseman, Adrian Gonzales, who turned a quick double play. Boston went on to win, 4-1.
“Boola boola,” said the Red Sox radio announcer, Dave O’Brien. Not too many listeners outside of New Haven may have grasped the significance of those words. But the lead announcer, Joe Castigione certainly did. He is from Hamden, and could be heard chuckling in the background.
What about the first all-Yale battery?
According to STATS and baseballreference.com, one would have to go back to the “dark ages” of baseball for a similar all-Yale battery in the big leagues. It was on September 15, 1883, when Jack (DA) Jones was pitching for the Philadelphia Athletics against Cincinnati and his catcher was Al Hubbard. Both were not only from Yale but they were there at the same time and had been Bulldog battery mates. Not even Breslow and Lavarnway can lay claim to that distinction.
This late season game, a mere 132 years ago, was the only time Jones and Hubbard would form an all-Yale battery in the American Association, which was then a major league circuit preceding the American League.
Can you believe it?
After that season, Jones left baseball and opened his dentist’s office. Hubbard played a few minor league games the next year in two New England leagues and later became a physician.
So not only were Jones and Hubbard the first all-Yale battery, but they were and still are the first and only all-Yale dentist-physician battery. As Castiglione would say, “Can you believe it?”
It’s amazing what a little digging can uncover. And all because the Red Sox are playing the Orioles this weekend, and we’re hoping for another precedent with Lavarnway hitting and Breslow pitching. If that should happen, it’s worth a few more “Boola boolas!”