BOSTON – The sight of Jonny Gomes taking swings in the same batting-practice group as Ryan Lavarnway before Game Two of the American League Division Series provided some easy dots to connect.
As if the lines of symmetry weren’t clearly marked already, John McDonald jumped in the cage immediately after Gomes, Lavarnway and the rest of their pregame swing partners cleared out.
Save for the shadows that had completely engulfed Fenway Park’s home plate on this picturesque October afternoon, it appeared to be business as usual – Red Sox players conducting warm-ups that also featured former PawSox manager and current first-base coach Arnie Beyeler spraying line drives to the outfielders. To the naked eye, Lavarnway and McDonald appeared to stand on equal footing with Gomes, David Ortiz and the rest of the names listed on the starting lineup.
Once the grounds were turned over so that Tampa Bay could properly limber up is when reality sets in for the three members of the Red Sox who still claim office space inside the clubhouse. Collectively, this trio is known as Boston’s version of the enlisted reserves.
Such a designation also represented Gomes’ idle status during Tampa’s run to the 2008 World Series. The gregarious outfielder was left off the roster for all of the Rays’ three playoff rounds after appearing in 77 games during the regular season.
Make no mistake though: Lavarnway, McDonald and veteran reliever Matt Thornton are still looked upon prominently even though none of them made Boston’s roll call for ALDS duty. The fact that they still have a daily connection with the ball club as opposed to the quartet of 2013 PawSox contributors who remain on standby in Fort Myers, Fla. – that list includes pitchers Drake Britton and Rubby De La Rosa, infielder Brandon Snyder and outfielder Jackie Bradley Jr. – is an enduring testament to the “being around” value that manager John Farrell has bestowed upon the aforementioned troika.
“Of course you want to be on the roster, but myself, Matt and Ryan are always thinking about what could happen – not how we can get on the roster, but how we can get prepared in case something does happen,” McDonald explained. “You can always prepare even during the game by helping the guys and ourselves get better.
“It’s playoff baseball. I had a front row seat (for Friday’s series opener) and we’re all in,” continued McDonald, the Providence College alum and 15-year major-league veteran who joined Boston on Aug. 31. “Guys say that it takes more than 25 players to win a championship at the end of the year and we’re still there right now. It may take more than the 25 who are active right now.”
Stated Lavarnway, the former PawSox catcher who spent quite a bit of time with the parent club this year, “It’s about staying ready, going through the process of attending meetings and looking over scouting reports, and being set just in case that something does happen, we can be plugged in right away.”
Even though McDonald is detached from a “game action” sense, the 39-year-old infielder is a firm believer that losing one’s competitive drive is next to impossible when the baseball calendar reads “October” and the electricity is bouncing off the dugout walls.
You can never feel completely disconnected.
“Everything is magnified and you feel the swings. Momentum can change instantly. You have to stop the other team from gaining momentum and when you have it, you need to take advantage,” McDonald described when asked about looking at the postseason through the lens of an inactive player with dugout access. “What happened Friday was that things just kept on snowballing. We ended up getting five (runs in the fourth inning during Boston’s eventual 12-2 bludgeoning) and tacked on right away the next inning. Being able to do that is huge during playoff games. You can feel the pressure and see things change. A lot of times during the regular season, something like (the crooked number the Sox hung in the fourth inning Friday) it’s not as magnified.
“It’s fun to watch and everything I thought it would be,” smiled McDonald, a telltale sign that he’s completely onboard with his present designation.
Though he downplayed the suggestion that he can serve as an extra set of eyes for Farrell and his coaching staff, McDonald did point out that his close ties with third-base coach Brian Butterfield dating back to their time together with the Toronto Blue Jays allows the former Friar baseball standout to pass along his observations.
“We talk about the game as it’s going on and we talk about [defensive] positioning. It’s great, open communication that the two of us have together,” McDonald cited. “Whether it’s the first game of spring training or a playoff game, it doesn’t change. We keep that same rapport and dynamic of helping each other get better and helping our team get better.”
For those curious to know how McDonald and Lavarnway spent their time once the first pitch is thrown, both explain.
“I take the same approach. The only thing that’s different is that I’m not going in,” said McDonald. “I don’t have my spikes on, but I’m going to think about the game the same way. I’m not going to get loose, but you just try to stay sharp. You’re into it and watching the way the other teams are playing.
“There’s no goofing off,” McDonald delved further. “You’re locked in the whole time.”
On his second-season function, Lavarnway said, “I’ll stay in the dugout (Saturday) like I did in Game One, but when we go to Tampa, I’ll probably head down to the bullpen. You just have to keep it the same and be ready to play in case your number is called. I’m here to help in any way possible.”
Follow Brendan McGair on Twitter @BWMcGair03