There was a time, David Ross remembers, when he was Christian Vazquez.
Ross, the Red Sox’ 37-year-old catcher, made his major league debut on June 29, 2002 with the Los Angeles Dodgers. He struck out swinging as a pinch hitter in his only at-bat in a 7-0 loss.
“When I came up, it was the same thing,” Ross said in the clubhouse before the Red Sox’ 5-4 walkoff win over the Chicago White Sox Wednesday night at Fenway Park. “I wasn’t the amazing player that I am today.”
He then laughed, but he realizes the importance of his new task: Help Vazquez — the 23-year-old Puerto Rican tank who was called up to the Sox Wednesday when A.J. Pierzynski was designated for assignment — learn the ways of catching in the majors.
“He’s a great young prospect,” Ross said of Vazquez, who went 0 for 3 Wednesday, batting ninth and wearing No. 55 in his big league debut. “I’m anxious to be part of the catching corps with him.”
“My dream [is] to be here, to play in the big leagues,” said Vazquez, never losing his smile and becoming the first Red Sox player to make his debut with a start at catcher since 1992. “I’m very happy.”
Manager John Farrell said Vazquez — who hit .279 with a .721 OPS, three home runs, and 20 RBIs in 66 games with Pawtucket this season and caught eight Sox games in spring training — will call his own games for now, and that he will catch four times per week, with Ross starting the other three.
Vazquez’s strengths are his defensive presence and formidable right arm. The catcher, drafted in the ninth round in 2008, threw out 40 percent of base stealers in Pawtucket this season and had 413 putouts.
“He’s a very talented, confident defensive player, so we’re not concerned about his ability to come up and catch,” general manager Ben Cherington said.
“Christian Vasquez did an excellent job running the game tonight,” said Farrell, who in spring training thought Vazquez already had MLB-ready defensive skills. “A number of pitches at the bottom of the strike zone that he framed exceptionally well and did a very good job overall.”
On Wednesday, Vazquez caught Rubby De La Rosa, with whom he played at Pawtucket. Both said their previous connection helped.
“I feel more comfortable because he knows me,” De La Rosa said. “So he knows all my pitches.”
Vazquez illustrated his defensive acumen in the seventh.
With White Sox left fielder Alejandro De Aza on first, catcher Tyler Flowers drove a pitch to left field, and Johnny Gomes couldn’t come down with it. Gomes fired the ball to Xander Bogaerts, who relayed the throw home. Vazquez caught it and tagged a sliding De Aza before he touched home.
The catcher pumped his right arm, and the crowd erupted.
“A lot of emotion,” Vazquez said after the Red Sox came back from a four-run deficit to snap a four-game losing streak. “A good win for us.”
“We’re just going to tell Vazquez this is what he should expect every game,” said Daniel Nava, who scored the winning run after pinch hitting for Vazquez in the ninth.
Vazquez, a sturdy righthander at 5 feet 9 inches and 195 pounds, was riding a seven-game hitting streak in Pawtucket, and his offense is progressing, despite the hitless debut.
“I was nervous a little bit,” Vazquez said of hitting against White Sox ace Chris Sale, “but I trust myself.”
And he won’t be alone. Ross said he’s eager to mentor Vazquez, and in early batting practice the two catchers hugged near home plate.
“I talked to him already, we exchanged cellphone numbers, we’ll ride to the park together, teaching him the little things I’ve had to learn the hard way,” Ross said. “And then try to give him all the information that I can to help him succeed.”
Ross said most of his advice to the young catcher will come during games: how to manage an inning, throw off batters from their offensive strategy, make sure the pitcher is at ease.
“He goes with the pitcher’s strength first, and I think that’s No. 1: You want your pitcher to be comfortable,” Ross said. “It’s going to be a learning process.”
Ross, a 13-year veteran, will make sure he’s there for that education. After batting practice, he found Vazquez in the dugout. The catchers smiled, bumped fists, and walked together into the tunnel to the clubhouse, one happy to relive the past and the other looking toward the future.