There will be plenty of space used throughout the print world and blogosphere regarding the decision to re-sign Jason Varitek or pursue other options behind the plate. Eventually, those opinionated pieces will dominate the headlines and RSS feeds, and ultimately, the front office will make a decision, followed by an inevitable flood of second guessing and subjective journalism.
Before that storm hits the horizon, it seemed appropriate to present a preemptive look at the captain's most nostalgic moments with the team. Here are the top ten moments of Jason Varitek's career with the Boston Red Sox, presented by Fire Brand of the American League. Take advantage of the comments area to give us your personal ranking and moments that didn't make the list.
May 20, 2001 - Varitek hits Three HRs in one game
Jason filled the box score during a 10-3 win versus the Kansas City Royals. From the eight-spot in the lineup, Tek went a perfect 4-for-4 with three HRs, a single, seven RBI, and three runs scored. The game raised his average to .307 for the year. Unfortunately, he would appear in just over a dozen more games the rest of the year before breaking his elbow while making a catch that would be named the "Web Gem of the Month" for June.
When Varitek was injured, the Red Sox were in first place in their division at 34-24, 28-19 in games that he started, and won eight of their last 10 games. The team would finish barely above .500 at 82-79 and fire manager Jimy Williams near the end of the 2001 campaign.
Apr. 22, 2007 - Tek finishes off historic home-run streak
Championships are won in September and October, not April. However, there are a few April games every year and looking back set the tone for the rest of the 150+ games. Early in 2007, the Yankees were struggling, at 8-8, while the Red Sox were on a four-game winning streak and looking for a sweep to finish off the Bronx Bombers.
The Yankees had a 3-0 lead going into the bottom of the fourth when Manny Ramirez went deep with the bases empty. Four pitches later, J.D. Drew hit another home run. Mike Lowell went yard next, and two pitches later, Tek hit the historic back-to-back-to-back-to-back home run to give the Red Sox a 4-3 lead in a game they would eventually win, sweeping away the Yankees on their way to a division title.
At the time, it was only the fourth time in baseball history the feat had been accomplished.
Apr. 4, 2001 - Hideo Nomo's no-hitter
In Nomo's first start wearing a Boston uniform, Tek called an efficient 105 pitch, complete game no-hitter. Nomo ended the game with 11 strikeouts to only three walks in the earliest no-hitter in the history of baseball and the first for the Boston Red Sox in 31 years.
The no-hitter electrified the Boston fans, who were still shocked by Nomar Garciaparra's Spring Training wrist injury. After the game, Nomo gave credit to Varitek, saying, through a translator, that all he had to do was concentrate on throwing strikes. He had confidence in the catcher to call the right pitches and locations in every situation.
|Jason Varitek 1997-2008 Statistics|
Oct. 2, 2005 - Varitek wins silver and gold
The local nine failed to defend their championship from the previous year, but it was not at the fault of their newly adorned captain. Tek became the first Red Sox player since 1991 to win a Gold Glove, and the first Red Sox catcher ever to win a Silver Slugger award.
Tek also made his second All Star team in 2005, the first coming in 2003. Varitek hit .281 with a .366 OBP, 22 HRs, and 70 RBI while finishing in the Top 30 of the MVP voting for the third consecutive year. 2003, in which Jason hit more home runs and had more runs batted in, was clearly the better statistical year, but 2005 was his overall best offensive year for the Boston Red Sox.
June 13, 2005 - Jason Varitek named the team captain
Theo Epstein surprised Jason with the captainship by presenting him a home and away jersey at the press conference with the captain's "C" on the chest. Epstein said, "It's not every day you're lucky enough to sign a player that embodies everything you want your franchise to be."
It is interesting to note that his agent, Scott Boras, was demanding a five year, $55 million contract for Tek, but he personally authorized the acceptance of four years, $40 million.
Photo by Matthew Stockman
Apr. 27, 2002 - Derek Lowe's no-hitter
After struggling in his relief role during 2001, the Red Sox organization moved Derek Lowe into the starting rotation for 2002. Under Varitek's guidance, Derek Lowe responded by going 21-8 and finishing third in the Cy Young voting for the season.
In order to make transition of that magnitude, a pitcher must be able to have confidence in himself and his pitches. On Apr. 27, Derek Lowe gained enough confidence to become a successful starting pitcher for the rest of his career. Guided by Jason's two-RBI night and calming presence behind the plate, Lowe went nine hitless innings, striking out six and walking only one.
Two interesting notes: Lowe was also six outs away from a no-hitter in his first start of the season. Also, this no-hitter was the first thrown at Fenway Park in 37 years.
July 18, 2006 - Sets team record for most games caught
When he sat behind home plate for his 991st game as the catcher of the Boston Red Sox, Jason Varitek broke the team record set by none other than Carlton Fisk. Once the game, against the Royals, became officially of record in the fifth inning, his achievement was recognized by the organization.
The home crowd at Fenway Park gave a standing ovation to their captain and hero. Later in the season, Jason would pass 1,000 games behind the plate, an amazing testament to his durability and talent. The MLB Players Alumni Association rewarded Tek with the 2006 Red Sox Heart and Hustle Award, which is presented to the player exemplifying the values, traditions, and spirit of the game of baseball.
May 19, 2008 - Jon Lester's no-hitter
Yeah, we skipped one; in 2007, rookie Clay Buchholz threw a no-hitter with Tek behind the plate as well. That was also the last no-hitter thrown before lefty Jon Lester went nine shutout innings without giving up a hit. Put this into perspective: When Hideo Nomo threw his no-hitter, it was the first in 31 years for the Boston Red Sox. With Varitek behind the plate, Lester threw the fourth in seven years.
There is a lot of debate when considering the validity of some of the earliest recorded no-hitter, but it is safe to say that Jason is the only catcher in the modern era of baseball to record four no-hitters. The record is more than a coincidence; Varitek was not catching Nolan Ryan in his prime; he is one of the game's greatest students, the ultimate leader and confidant behind the plate.
July 24, 2004 - Varitek shoves Alex Rodriguez during stare-down
2003 was the Don Zimmer-Pedro Martinez fight. The Aaron Boone home run. The Curse. 2004 seemed more of the same on the morning of July 24, as the Red Sox sat 9.5 games behind the New York Yankees. After winning the first of a two-game series, New York led 3-0 in the top of the third inning against Boston pitcher Bronson Arroyo.
Arroyo had two outs and nobody on when he hit third baseman Alex Rodriguez with his third pitch. As A-Rod walked up the first base line and had words with Arroyo and Tek, Jason shoved his open glove into the face of the highest paid player in baseball. Both were ejected and suspended for their actions, but it came to symbolize the 2004 season.
The local nine were no longer going to be bullied or intimidated by the crumbling New York dynasty, and it was Jason Varitek who delivered the message.
Oct. 20, 2004 - Varitek 's offense leads historic comeback
In that series, Tek batted .321 (third on team), scored five runs (second), nine hits (third), two HRs (second), and had seven RBI (second).
Varitek went on to play in all four games of the World Series sweep that brought the much-celebrated first championship to the Boston organization in 86 years.
Those are my personal top 10, as I mentioned above, please feel free to post your order of our top 10 or any omissions you feel should have been added to the list. In closing, take a minute to watch this video tribute from YouTube about Red Sox Nation's catcher, hero, and captain, Jason Varitek: