Jason Varitek Retirement: The 10 Greatest Moments of His Red Sox Career
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Though the sun may be shining in Ft. Myers tomorrow, it will be a dark day for many Red Sox fans.
With his retirement, Jason Varitek will write the final chapter of his Red Sox career. It will be a bittersweet moment for fans, who have watched Varitek grow from a mere prospect into one of the greatest catchers in franchise history.
He will be remembered for his toughness, leadership, and ability to get the most out of his teammates. The tributes from his former teammates are already pouring in, and they all are paying homage to a man who put the success of the team before any personal goals.
As one of 19 captains in Red Sox history, Varitek will hold an important place in franchise lore. His accomplishments speak for themselves: three All-Star selections, a Gold Glove, a Silver Slugger, two World Series rings and a host of franchise records.
What will not live on in the record books is what Varitek meant to the franchise. He brought calm and composure in times of great turmoil, steadying a team that without his direction and drive would easily have lost its way. Over the grind of an up-and-down 162 game season, Varitek brought stability.
Now, as we begin to look back on his 14-year career, we can take stock of all the things he accomplished. While some of them are team accomplishments, as Varitek would prefer, we must praise him for his many individual feats as well.
Let’s take a look at the top 10 moments of Varitek’s Red Sox career:
10. The Acquisition
A young Varitek broke in with the Red Sox in 1998 after being acquired from Seattle
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In a trade as lopsided as any that has been made in Red Sox history, Varitek was acquired from the Seattle Mariners along with Derek Lowe for Heathcliff Slocumb. After blowing eight saves in 1996, Slocumb fell apart in 1997, posting five losses and a 5.97 ERA as the Red Sox closer before being dealt.
Varitek, while as accomplished a college player as there had been in recent memory, was not going anywhere in the Seattle farm system. Shockingly, his defense was slow to adapt to the pro game, and he had veteran backstop Dan Wilson blocking his way to a big-league starting job.
The Mariners thus felt Varitek was expendable and sent him off to Boston. What followed over the next 14-plus years was a far greater career than anyone could have imagined for the then-struggling catcher.
9. Setting the Record
The Fenway crowd acknowledges Varitek break Carlton Fisk's club record for games caught
Varitek caught his 991st game for the Red Sox on July 18, 2006, surpassing the legendary Carlton Fisk’s franchise record. The streak was not only a testament to Varitek’s skill, but also to his longevity and durability.
After suffering a broken elbow in 2001, Varitek caught at least 131 games in seven of the following eight seasons. Only as he aged and the years of foul tips and balls in the dirt began to take their toll did he begin to break down physically.
Varitek’s club record total for games caught will stand at 1,488 (good for 30th in major-league history) and is a mark we may never see broken.
8. Voted by Fans onto All-Star Team
Varitek, a first time All-Star, chats it up with his teammates in 2003
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After several years of steady improvement at the plate, Varitek broke out with the best offensive season of his career. He set career highs in home runs (25), RBIs (85), and slugging percentage (.512), and he appeared to be a shoo-in for the All-Star Game.
After being snubbed in the initial voting, Varitek was voted in by those who appreciated him the most: the fans. In MLB’s “Final Vote,” he collected more than 3 million votes to surpass several higher-caliber players.
It was a sign of appreciation from the Red Sox fans for all the work Varitek had done to improve himself as a hitter while still maintaining his sterling defense. The fans’ affection for Varitek would only continue to grow from there.
7. 1999 ALDS Game 5
Varitek's contribution in the ALDS victory over Cleveland was immense
While this game will rightly be remembered for the heroism of Troy O’Leary and Pedro Martinez, Varitek’s role cannot be understated.
When Pedro came on in relief to try to quell the Indians bats, it was apparent from the start that he was both injured and fatigued. With Varitek carefully selecting the pitches, Martinez flummoxed the Indians to the tune of no hits and three walks in six innings of relief.
The Red Sox won the game 12-8, shocking the Indians in Cleveland. Though they went on to lose to the eventual-champion Yankees in five games, the Red Sox showed signs of life for the first time in many years, and it would not be the last time Varitek was in the middle of the action.
6. 2003 ALDS Game 3
Varitek prevented Eric Byrnes from touching the plate, keying the Sox rally from a 2-0 deficit to win the series
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With the Sox down 2-0 in the best-of-five series and at risk of being swept by the Oakland A’s, a truly strange play occurred at Fenway that completely altered the tenor of the game and the season. With one out and runners at the corners, a tapper was hit to pitcher Derek Lowe, who upon seeing the runner breaking for home attempted to flip the ball to Varitek.
The only problem was it sailed over Varitek’s head.
However, Varitek continued to block the plate, and even after runner Eric Byrnes slid into home there was no sign from the umpire. While Byrnes hopped around favoring his leg, Varitek grabbed the ball and tagged Byrnes—who had never touched the plate—for the out.
The image of an irate Byrnes and Varitek pumping his fist became representative of the series, as the Sox went on to complete the comeback and defeat the A’s in five games.
5. Four No-Hitters
Varitek and Jon Lester celebrate Varitek's record fourth no-hitter caught
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Any catcher would say that being part of a no-hitter is one of the greatest thrills of his career. Being a part of more than one is an even rarer feat, one accomplished by only 59 catchers in the history of Major League Baseball.
In the category of multiple no-hitters caught, Varitek has no equal.
He was a part of four no-hitters (Hideo Nomo in 2001, Derek Lowe in 2002, Clay Buchholz in 2007, and Jon Lester in 2008), a record unequaled in the history of the game. This success is not just about the pitcher, but about Varitek’s ability to keep the pitcher focused as the game wears on.
With no active players ever having caught more than one regular-season no-hitter, it will be some time before we ever see Varitek’s record approached.
4. 2007 World Series
Varitek and Jonathan Papelbon celebrate the final out of the 2007 World Series
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The 2007 World Series victory was the ultimate combination of individual and team success. The Sox fell behind 3-1 to the Indians in the ALCS before going on to win their next seven games against first Cleveland and then the Colorado Rockies.
Varitek was excellent in the entire playoffs, and particularly the World Series. In the four-game sweep, he batted .333 with five RBI while also overseeing a pitching staff that completely shut down the red-hot Rockies, who were coming off a series sweep of the Diamondbacks in the NLCS.
The pitching staff’s collective 2.50 ERA in the series reflected a dominance that allowed Varitek and the Red Sox to win their second championship in four years.
3. 2004 World Series
An image all Red Sox fans will remember forever
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The victory in the 2004 World Series will be a lifelong highlight for any Red Sox fan alive to see it. The feelings of euphoria combined with relief when the final out was recorded will stay with Bostonians forever.
Varitek was not only part of the enduring image of that victory as he jumped into Keith Foulke’s arms, but his offense was also a big reason the Sox were there at all.
After hitting .321 with two home runs and seven RBI against the Yankees, Varitek’s two-run triple in the first inning of Game 2 against the Cardinals gave the Red Sox a lead they would never relinquish.
Varitek’s 11 career playoff home runs are the most by any catcher in Major League history, and he will be remembered as the leader of the greatest Red Sox team ever.
2. Named Captain
Varitek is presented with a jersey bearing the captain's "C"
After winning the 2004 World Series, Varitek hit the free agent market. For a while, it even seemed like he might actually leave the Red Sox, the only major-league team he had ever played for.
After a protracted negotiation, Varitek ultimately re-signed with the Sox, and in the process was officially named team captain.
Given Varitek’s stature with the team already, this gesture may have seemed minor. However, it reflected the way the Red Sox felt about him; General Manager Theo Epstein at the time described Varitek as “a player who embodies everything you want your franchise to be.”
Varitek’s humility and steadfast leadership had provided stability to the franchise during his entire tenure. After being named only the fourth Red Sox captain since 1942, Varitek continued to lead the team as they enjoyed one of their best stretches in Red Sox history.
1. The Brawl
Varitek's defiance started the Red Sox on the path to their first championship since 1918
Downtrodden and seemingly cursed, the Red Sox were trailing the Yankees 3-0 on July 24, 2004, and looked as if they were headed for another tough defeat. Then, in the top of the third inning, everything changed.
Bronson Arroyo hit Alex Rodriguez with a pitch. Varitek did not take kindly to A-Rod’s yelling at Arroyo, and Varitek got in A-Rod’s face as the Yankees third baseman walked to first. Varitek shoved A-Rod in the face, sparking a brawl that changed the course of Red Sox history.
This act of defiance told the world that the Red Sox were no longer afraid of the Yankees. The emotional lift this provided spurred the Sox on to win the game, come back from a 3-0 series deficit against the Yankees in the ALCS and win the World Series.
Without this moment of fearless leadership, the Red Sox might still be looking for their first championship since 1918.