It was strange to see Jason Varitek get emotional at yesterday's press conference. Not that I think the man is an android, but...okay, well, at times you may have been able to fool me. He has always seemed so impenetrable, so macho, that seeing his eyes welling up with tears and watching him struggle to compose himself had a Twilight Zone feeling about it.
I already posted when news broke a couple days ago that he was going to retire, but it seems wrong not to mark the Captain's official goodbye with a post, so below, a look back through photos and blog snippets dedicated to Tek.
There was also, of course, Jason Varitek's home run to blow open the lead after Derek Lowe choked in the fifth. The usual suspects and I were in the living room, and oddly enough we were still swearing and bellyaching about something that had come before, when all of a sudden there went the ball in a tremendous arc, past the Coca-Cola bottles and over the Monster seats.
It wasn't a clap-and-cheer moment, really. It was more shock and awe, followed by sobs of joy. We were werklempt. "Tawk amongst yaselves," we rasped to each other as Tek touched 'em all.
Proud Mary Keeps on Turning, May 26, 2004
And so we came to Sign Tek Now, Vol. III. Nelson worked a count of 0-2, and an ecstatic Fenway was on its feet again (when will we ever learn?). Nelson then proceeded to disappoint the crowd utterly with two high and outside pitches for balls 1 and 2.
You don't understand, the crowd seemed to be sighing. We paid our money and we want that third strike. Now.
But those two high pitches were not mistakes. Tek was setting up for them and Nelson was hitting the target exactly where Tek put it.
"Varitek's a genius," I told Steve. "He's having Nelson throw outside and high to set up Soriano. Soriano knows he's being set up, so he probably thinks Nelson will come after him with the next pitch right over the plate. He's gonna swing for the fences."
"Mmm hmm," Steve said mildly.
"But they'll get him down and inside," I prattled on. "Hopefully," I added finally, just to be sure.
I needn't have. The bottom fell completely out of a pitch the Rem-Dawg told us was christened "The Vulcan" (after the strange grip Nelson has to use, making the fork between his middle finger and ring finger rather than his index finger and middle finger), Soriano whiffed, game over, Red Sox win.
... So, if Tek is always so spot-on with his pitch calls, and I've heard tell he is, the question isn't whether or not he'd perform this way ... The question is, why does Tek congratulate the pitcher after a game-ending punchout? Shouldn't it be the other way around?
Big Time, July 10, 2004
Here are the facts as I understand them.
Nomar got plunked. A-Rod got plunked back (although since Bronson has led the league, depending on the day, in hit batsmen so far, that's not for certain). A-Rod editorialized on said plunking to the wrong person, namely Jason Varitek. Tek replied in kind. A-Rod and Tek began circling like dogs. Very big dogs (A-Rod is actually surprisingly large when seen toe-to-toe with Tek). The umpire, realizing this, soon removed himself from between them.
Video replays show A-Rod, in Tek's face, saying, "Come on. Come on."
And Tek, being Tek, lays a brawny hand on his offending Yankee chest and pushes him away.
And A-Rod, apparently completely assimilated into the Borg by now, keeps coming.
What happened next was absolutely classic. Better than the Munson-Fisk fight, in my opinion. Better even than Pedro v. the Gerbil, because this one was fairly matched. Tek reached back and suckered A-Rod right in the face.
Then he quickly followed through by pushing both hands into A-Rod's face, shoving him backwards by the head. With A-Rod thus immobilized, Tek bent down, wrapped his arms around one leg, and attempted to body-slam A-Rod.
Normally I'm not a fan of fighting in baseball. But this was a beautiful thing.
All the King's Horses and all the King's Men, July 25, 2004
Who knows what scent, what sudden change in the wind, sent Jason Varitek after A-Rod, prompted the Red Sox catcher to put his big body between Rodriguez and Arroyo, his brown mask with "Tek" inscribed in the leather padding bobbing over his face as he drew A-Rod's attention like someone diverting an angry dog, and A-Rod took the bait.
It's clear, however, from video footage what led to the bench-clearing brawl that unfolded next; as the two circled each other, A-Rod towering over Tek, Tek with chords and sinews standing out on his strapping neck, as much a primal, elemental brawl between alpha males as any that has taken place in any species, A-Rod whispered, "Come on."
Come on, Tek. Throw the first punch. Come on, Tek, put your money where your mouth is. The way your team couldn't. Come on, Tek, just punch me already. Come on Tek, let's see you step up and be a man. Come on, Tek, you asked for it, if you want to step between me and that pipsqueak you call a pitcher. Come on, Tek, everyone's watching, we didn't even want to play this stupid game today, and you started it, your team started this fight and this slippery slope that landed me in New York and now you and this whole ballpark treat me like I'm the enemy...
Come on, Tek. Make me a Yankee.
The third time he said it, Varitek's hands were in his face, not so much punching or slapping as pushing, looking almost as if he wanted to erase Rodriguez more than pummel him. The two began to grapple as a crowd of their teammates closed in on them.
Baseball, especially Red Sox baseball in this long, strange trip of a season, is as much a text as it is the playing out of mathematical, physical and geometric theories. It's as much about whatever passed between Alexander Emmanuel Rodriguez of the New York Yankees and Jason Andrew Varitek of the Boston Red Sox with two out in the third inning on July 24, 2004 as either of their OBPs or OPSs. Baseball Prospectus, with all due respect, will not be coming out with a Fight Metric in the near future. There will be no Brawl Win-Loss statistics. But it's just as real--whatever that was, the weird chemicals in the air that drab, humid, muddy day in July, and it had just as much to do with what happened this season as any measurable statistic.
It's hard to say why, really, what Varitek's glove in A-Rod's face had to do with Bill Mueller's gorgeous shot into the bullpen (where it was gloved by an ecstatic Doug Mirabelli) to take the game from Mariano Rivera six innings later, or what it had to do with the Red Sox' historic comeback for the pennant, and the brawl game even took place before the great Nomar Trade I credited in the last piece of this series with the team's recovery. It's completely unscientific, what can I say? But it's real, and it was there, and fitting, of course, that the Red Sox miraculous win would be crafted from much the same elements as any of their devastating, what-are-the-odds losses: a generous helping of the supernatural, mixed with more than a little bit of the uncanny.
My grandfather is 83 years old. Tonight the Boston Red Sox, standing on the dark side of the moon as it passed through the only lunar eclipse to hover over the World Series, the Red Sox made Ted Williams smile, wherever he is. And they made an 83-year-old man who did what he had to do to serve his country and his family smile in his hospital room while Jason Varitek stormed the mound, leaping with open-mouthed glee into the arms of his pitcher, while their teammates ran toward them, bearing an accompanying mob of ghosts with them to the celebration.
Today is Someday, October 27, 2004
When [Orlando Cabrera] got up to the plate [at Fenway for the first time as a visiting Angel], his uniform grey as if he is physically fading from us, the red of it just a hint of candied-apple kitsch rather than the classical vermillion, the Fenway crowd was on its feet. Of course, it helped that "seconds before his first at-bat Friday night, a replay of Cabrera's walk-off homer for the Sox last September against the Orioles was played on the scoreboard in center field." (Redsox.com)
But it's probable that the Fenway crowd would have stood and cheered for Cabrera without prompting.
"I couldn't even swing the bat. (Jason) Varitek was laughing. He felt it too. It was amazing.''
Once and Future Shortstop, June 4, 2005
And, of course, there's no chart or forumula to describe what transpired between Millar and his teammates when he returned from his round-tripper to the dugout--their teasing nonchalance when he first entered, and the way it was finally broken by Jason Varitek, who leapfrogged onto Millar's back in a way that spelled out his affection and relief. There's no graph that'll show what had passed between them this season, human being to human being, and how that may or may not have affected Millar's performance.
An island of activity amidst a sea of statistics, August 25, 2005
The way Francona and Nipper clustered around the despondent Pauley in the dugout, hanging his head so low it was almost between his knees, the way Jason Varitek gave him a firm "buck up" slap on the butt, the way Manny and Papi broke out the big-boy bats in support, the way Mirabelli would lead Pauley gently back up onto the mound during conferences with one hand on his back and was seen giving him enthusiastic instruction between innings in the dugout...Sometimes the "back up your teammates" ethic in baseball seems like so much empty-headed machismo, especially when it comes to beanballs and fights. But tonight it was a touching display, the millionaire Boston Red Sox professional baseball club suddenly looking for all the world like a ragtag sandlot team, sticking up for the little guy on the mound.
Satisfaction, May 31, 2006
I can't help but be tickled by the sound bites I heard from [Kyle] Snyder after the ballgame yesterday:
"I started shaking a little bit. It wasn't what I anticipated, obviously, but under the circumstances it was one of the best feelings I've ever had," Snyder said..."Jason Varitek behind the plate -- I can't say enough about his ability to discover my strengths and call the game that he called." (MLB.com)
In retrospect, June 20, 2006
Even Jonathan's teammates are starting to hover around him worshipfully in subtle ways--today Jason Varitek gently laid his palm on the back of Jonathan's head as they headed from the mound over to high-five after the win, and looked over at him with those sharp blue eyes, seeming to think about something very hard. Jonathan, clueless, scanned the field beyond, and then tipped up his hat brim, the better to wipe at the sweat on his brow; when he did this, Varitek quietly took his hand away. I don't know that Jonathan even knew he was there.
But I know exactly how Jason Varitek was feeling.
The only time I really started to feel fear in this game was in the top of the ninth, in which a dullened Jonathan Papelbon struggled to hold the line. I remember earlier in the season I thought of him as seeming sharp, in a literal sense--like he was slicing through his work with frightening ease, that he was a new, fresh thing right out of the box and was working perfectly in a way we knew could not last ...
Now is the feeling I was anticipating--the sense that he has been worn down, maybe only slightly, but still: he's being broken in. He's just ever so slightly dullened. Could be the workload wearing on him or the big leagues catching up with him or a longer season or all of the above.
Or maybe he's just lost without Jason Varitek. It could be we really, majorly haven't given the Captain enough credit this year.
Slow--though beautiful, August 13, 2006
Ultimately, the biggest difference here, to me, is the loss of Jason Varitek. That's the single factor you can point to that's different between when this team was playing decent baseball and their current pathetic state of affairs. With the way the bullpen has been absolutely falling all over itself, I think it's clear he was more of a factor, especially with the young pitchers, than we ever even dreamed he was.
"Sometimes being a fan is a pleasure...other times, it's a duty.", August 22, 2006
So maybe it's just that I'm still so unabashedly psyched about baseball being back. I was fairly psyched about it even after a miserable Opening Day game; now that actual positive things are happening for the Red Sox I'm downright giddy.
Either way, by the time Jason Varitek was fouling a ball off the ground and into his own face in the top of the sixth, things had gotten decidedly intense.
On the next pitch, as Emma put it on the SGMB, Tek "went all Chuck Norris" on the ball, slapping it into right field for a sac fly to make it 4-1 Red Sox.
More Like It, April 4, 2007
So it's the bottom of the third inning and Casey Wright is enjoying a 3-0 lead over Matsuzaka, already in my head I'm seeing a redux of the last Matsuzaka start at Fenway, and I'm saying as much to my family. "I know exactly how this is gonna go," I'm telling them. "We're going to make this guy look like Cy freakin' Young, Matsuzaka will get no run support again and we're gonna lose."
Serves me right that no sooner do I say that than Manny launches one. In the slow-motion replay the ball seems to leave his bat at a near 90-degree angle, and it takes all of three seconds to get out of the park. Manny, meanwhile, untwists in that slow way he has when he's really unloaded, bringing his arms back round straight-elbowed in front of him. I know he's posing, but I also feel there's an element there of coming out of a trance before he can begin his shuffle around the bases.
Now, of course, I'm all optimism. All right, they're getting to the kid, I think. OK, now Drew, base hit, and let's get a rally going. Briefly I contemplate getting up for a drink, settling in for the long haul. Already I'm skipping ahead to Mike Lowell, thinking, if he can double Drew in--
And then from the television there is an unmistakable CRACK and the ball is rocketing out toward the deepest part of the field, landing behind the bullpens almost even with the wall at the triangle, edging into Red Seat territory. It is an almighty blast out of the park by JD Drew, and my thoughts of a drink are forgotten. Now I'm just thinking of that Lowell double. I feel a bit guilty for being so audacious in the face of the baseball gods, but I'm beginning to think we're going to tie up the ballgame this inning. Theo is shown in his box mouthing "Oh my God."
Which is when Lowell reprises Manny's moon shot, launching another offering from Wright over everything in left. By now it's clear we're watching something special. Fenway is dialing it up to 11 as Varitek comes to the plate. That was a relatively decent pitch Lowell got hold of, not like the fat meatballs for Manny and JD. That gravy train might have dried up, but if Tek can get on base, maybe--
And blam, the fourth home run of the inning is headed for the Monster seats.
The last time what we saw last night happened in the American League was 1963 (interesting bit of trivia: Tito Francona Sr. was involved at the time). It has never happened in Red Sox history. By the time the Captain was touching 'em all, Fenway was at post-season thunder levels. Even on TV it looked like an earthquake of 10.0 on the Richter Scale was going through the place.
Dream yourself a dream come true, April 23, 2007
Even while getting squeezed, Gabbard had a perfect game going today through three and two-thirds. And my dad was in great form in general when it came to the old ball game this afternoon; I also enjoyed his cry of "A Triple for the Tank!" after Jason Varitek coasted into third base with a three-run hit in the bottom of the first.
A triple for The Tank, May 20, 2007
Watching Jason Varitek calmly field a muffed bunt for Okajima, watching Jonathan Papelbon beginning to warm up--in other words, watching the vicious machinery at the heart of the Red Sox bullpen go coolly to work on the White Sox, it occurred to me just how powerful this team can seem when things are going right. It feels, when things are going as they should, like a sleeping giant has been awakened.
Losing Our Tempers, July 20, 2007
You have to watch [Game 5 of the 2007 ALCS] from the beginning. To say I re-watch this game often would be a total understatement. I can cue certain innings depending on my mood (and of course know the game by heart now, chapter and verse), but the best way to get the full effect of it is to watch from the beginning. Only then can you get an appreciation for the gradual silence that fell over the place, as Beckett continued his ruthless and brilliant work.
I rewind that moment in inning 4 when Varitek first put down one dirty, scabbed, taped-up index finger and waggled it toward his left thigh to indicate “inside”, and then replaced it with two fingers for the deuce. Josh followed those instructions with enough precision and late-breaking filth to bring tears to your eyes. I can’t get enough of watching that, the order from behind the plate, and then the eye-popping response from the mound.
Bill Simmons, in his Oct. 23 column on the Sox’s pennant win, wrote of this game, Baseball is the only sport where a single person can shut up 55,000 people for an extended period of time and eventually break their will. This was one of those times.
In 2004 it was the pile of them, Foulke underhanding to Mientkiewicz and immediately turning to holler at Varitek, who proceeded to leap up over both of them and bring the Thighs of Freedom (tm Kristen) crashing down on Foulke in a mighty celebration tackle, before the rest of the team piled in around them. This year, it was that single exclamation point from Papelbon. It was his solo performance.
So they are apples and oranges, the difference between a sonata and a symphony. But they’re both freakin’ beautiful.
(AP Photo/Charles Krupa/ESPN.com)
The above is my new favorite moment of the season so far. It's early yet, and so that favorite might change as soon as today, but as Papel-blog's Kelly once commented on this blog, "Every time Jason Varitek pats Papelbon on the head and/or upper back area, I'm pretty sure that God cures the broken leg of a small kitten."
The Yankees and the Rain, April 13, 2008
Wednesday night's game turned out to be a near-rerun of Tuesday night's walkoff victory, except this time it was 2-1, I wasn't in attendance at the game, and it was Jason Varitek instead of Kevin Youkilis filling the role of Big Stud with the Big Hit.
And it was a studly hit, bounding with authority into center field while Manny hauled ass to score from second. Also in contrast to the previous night, Vernon Wells had not bobbled the first dribbling single hit his way in an attempt to score Jed Lowrie, and had cut the Sox rookie down at the plate with a surehanded throw. After Manny crossed the plate to finally shove that run across, he flung down his batting helmet, an exclamation point on the victory.
Double Negative, May 3, 2008
A brilliant cartoon by Sam. Her caption: If this deal does not get done it will be because Theo did not break out the puppy dog eyes at the proper time.
Here's a rhetorical equivalent of puppy dog eyes: someone close to me was recently hospitalized with a critical illness. Having been through hell and back, the first question she asked when she got home this week was, "Has Tek signed yet?"
Come on, people. This ain't rocket science.
On the STILL ongoing saga of Tek, January 30, 2009
Not to be outdone, Pedroia's protege, Jose Iglesias, also earned a spot in the highlight reel with a bases-clearing double and pickoff throw for an out at second, both in the fourth inning. And that pickoff throw, it turns out, had come from none other than Jason Varitek.
You mean...I actually enjoy hearing from the CHB, and I get to see Tek actually get a runner, any runner, out at second base -- all in the same day?
Will wonders never cease.
Otherwise, the moves by the Red Sox at the trade deadline today were distinctly nuts and bolts -- trading Ramon Ramirez to the Giants for right-handed relieving prospect Daniel Turpen and dealing prospects plus cash to the Rangers for Jarrod Saltalamacchia, who was immediately optioned to Pawtucket.
The question was raised about what this move might signal about VMart, but if it's a signal about anything, in my opinion it's about the likelihood of old, tired, broken Jason Varitek retaining a spot on our roster for many more seasons.
...it was difficult not to cast about for someone to blame as the Sox continued to take an embarrassing beating from the Bombers. Difficult not to quibble, for example, with a lineup that sat Mike Lowell while starting Kevin Cash, who made a boneheaded throw to third in the bottom of the fifth, tacking another run onto the Yankees' haul that inning.
Difficult, also, not to picture the faces that should've been there, and not to dwell on the woulda coulda shouldas. In that vein, I can only imagine what instincts seized Dustin Pedroia as he watched Bill Hall airmail a ball past V-Mart on what could've been a spectacular out in the bottom of the second. Or what might've been on Varitek or Youkilis' minds when Cash tossed the ball into left field
Split Decision, August 9, 2010
There are a number of interesting topics flying past on my RSS reader lately, as the Red Sox off-season gets into full swing, but I'm still stuck on only one: whither Jason Varitek?
I just can't move on to anything else Red Sox-related, apparently, until I know for sure that when he waved and gulped and blinked back tears at the end of that game on October 3, it really, definitely meant goodbye...
What will most likely come instead, Varitek in another uniform, clinging to the twilight of his career in some incongruous place a la Wade Boggs in Tampa Bay, feels wrong. The thought that the enthusiastic but informal ovation he got last month was really his only chance to bid Fenway goodbye feels wrong. Whatever the colder calculations say, it all feels completely wrong.
And not just wrong, but frustratingly anticlimactic, as well. So disappointingly impersonal, after all the years I've believed, even amid all the mercenaries of the modern game, that this guy would always be here with us, and never with anyone else.
Letting go of Jason Varitek (or, trying...), November 16, 2010
A majority of those early pitches for Daisuke came in the second inning, when he began missing his spots and issuing walks. That's when, between pitches, while the hitter wasn't looking, Varitek stood and tapped his fingers quickly on his right shoulder, the one that he'd apparently noticed was flying open too soon with Daisuke. The beleaguered fifth starter settled, and left the field that inning still the pitcher of record, without having surrendered a run.
I know we're not supposed to believe the team shows a preference for Varitek when it comes to working with pitchers, but come on. Yesterday was one thing, when Tek caught Josh Beckett in a day game after a night game, but what about today? Was there really any reason Jarrod Saltalamacchia couldn't or shouldn't have caught the game? Yet there was 'Tek, in what might've been Daisuke's famous One Big Inning, turning him around with one small gesture.
So I guess I just don't buy that the team isn't looking to slot Tek in whenever they have doubts about the pitching, despite all the lip service from everyone involved. The problem (and the grain of truth to all the vociferous denials that he's anybody's 'personal catcher') is that 'Tek is hitting .077 on the season with a .220 OPS. He's a coach behind the plate, and a giant hole in the lineup.
Red Sox hit it where Blue Jays ain't behind Daisuke, take 3 of 4, April 18, 2011
...glibly dismissing the role Varitek has played with the pitching staff is also reductivist, not to mention a bit tiresome after a while, with all the "Varitek wouldn't have let that happen" remarks over the last couple days. I get it. Varitek doesn't actually pitch the ball. Nor can he throw runners out to save his life.
But in a season in which he was supposed to be playing a minor backup role, we've really found ourselves with more of a platoon. Varitek has appeared in 9 games so far, compared with Salty's 13. I could be missing something, but I don't think that was supposed to be the ratio of appearances when the season began. And I also know there have been times, like Beckett's last two starts, when Varitek started even though there was no discernible reason Salty couldn't.
Why do you think that is?