Durham Bulls

Durham Bulls go down 0-2 in Governors’ Cup finals to the Columbus Clippers

Columbus Clippers Daniel Johnson is out at second as Durham Bulls Tyler Ladendorf makes the catch in the third inning at Huntington Park on September 11, 2019.
Columbus Clippers Daniel Johnson is out at second as Durham Bulls Tyler Ladendorf makes the catch in the third inning at Huntington Park on September 11, 2019. Photo by Eric Albrecht

On July 19, Ryan Lavarnway hit two home runs for the Cincinnati Reds in his major-league season debut.

Ten days later, he was designated for assignment.

After spending nearly a month with the Reds’ Triple-A affiliate in Louisville, the Clippers signed the 32-year-old catcher on Aug. 30 for insurance behind the plate after Eric Haase’s promotion to the Cleveland Indians.

On Wednesday, Lavarnway etched his name into Clippers postseason lore. First, he smashed a first-inning grand slam to right field that gave the Clippers a 4-0 lead in Game 2 of the Governors’ Cup finals. Four innings later, he hit a two-run home run to almost the exact same spot.

The Clippers went on to win 7-4 and take a 2-0 lead in the best-of-5 series. They now have three chances to clinch the International League championship in Durham, starting Thursday night.

“Every win in the playoffs is big,” manager Tony Mansolino said. “To win both games at home is big.”

Lavarnway’s season is one that has been defined by movement. After starting the season with the New York Yankees’ Triple-A affiliate in Scranton/Wilkes-Barre, he signed with the Reds in mid-July after both of their catchers were placed on the injured list. After playing five games for the Reds, he was sent down to Louisville, where he had seven RBI in 19 games for the Bats.

He recorded six RBI in two swings Wednesday.

“Late-season pickups are pretty normal for this league,” Mansolino said. “We’re lucky to have him.”

Logan Allen, another Clippers player who spent the season accumulating frequent-flier miles, threw a gem on the mound, scattering four hits and one run over six innings. The only run Allen allowed came on a solo home run by Jason Coats in the sixth inning. After reliever Cam Hill gave up three runs, Kyle Nelson and James Karinchak combined to throw 2 1/3 scoreless innings out of the bullpen.

“For him, as much as we’re winning it’s still about development,” Mansolino said. “It kind of came into fruition tonight, and he helped us win.”

After splitting the first half of the season with the San Diego Padres and their Triple-A affiliate in El Paso, Allen was shipped to Cleveland in the three-team trade deadline deal that sent Cleveland starter Trevor Bauer to Cincinnati.

Allen was backed up by stellar defense from the Clippers, specifically shortstop Andrew Velazquez. In the fourth inning, Velasquez showed off his range, making a diving stop and throw from behind second base to retire Durham’s Dylan Cozens. An inning later, he showed off his arm, throwing out Rocky Gale on a bare-handed grab and throw after the ball ricocheted off Allen.

“It’s nice,” Mansolino said of the Clippers’ defense. “We just need to keep doing it.”

Outside of Lavarnway’s two moon-scraping home runs, the Clippers’ only other run came when Velazquez reached on a throwing error from Durham shortstop Jake Cronenworth that allowed Adam Rosales to score.

Ka’ai Tom continued his strong postseason, banging out two hits, giving him 11 in the postseason. Bradley Zimmer reached base three times on two singles and a hit by pitch and nearly threw out a runner at home in the seventh inning.

Indians manager Terry Francona said Monday that he would prefer Zimmer stay in Columbus as long as possible to get as much game action as possible.