Jarrod Saltalamacchia Proving Himself a Worthy Heir to Jason Varitek

Al DanielCorrespondent IIJuly 24, 2011

BOSTON, MA  - JULY 24:  Jarrod Saltalamacchia #39 of the Boston Red Sox makes contact during a game against the Seattle Mariners at Fenway Park on July 24, 2011 in Boston, Massachusetts.  (Photo by Jim Rogash/Getty Images)
Jim Rogash/Getty Images

Did the past and future of the Boston Red Sox symbolically converge on the present as battery mates when Tim Wakefield threw to Jarrod Saltalamacchia on a milestone Sunday?

That could be, assuming Saltalamacchia does enough going forward to build upon his achievements. And not much else can be asked of him.

On the seven-year anniversary of Jason Varitek force-feeding his mitt to Alex Rodriguez, the Red Sox catching apprentice elevated his standards to a new rung as part of a 12-8 lashing of the Seattle Mariners.

It was rather fitting. After all, Saltalamacchia had the privilege of partaking in another historic occurrence at Fenway Park on Sunday afternoon. He caught each of the four strikeouts that Wakefield needed to nail 2,000 career strikeouts as a member of the Red Sox.

Naturally, though, it was a conventional Wakefield win in that it also had its share of spotty moments. In turn, it included a need for the offense to go full-pressure and eclipse the Mariners’ output. Everyone had to chip in at the plate and Saltalamacchia was no exception.

As it happened, he not only extended his hitting streak to four consecutive appearances in the starting lineup, and he not only matched a season-high with three base hits. He also kicked his recent habit of striking out multiple times per game (for now, anyway).

Previously, Saltalamacchia had whiffed twice on Saturday, twice apiece in Baltimore last Monday and Tuesday and thrice at Tampa Bay last Saturday. But on Sunday, while Seattle pitchers mustered seven strikeouts against other Sox hitters, he went 3-for-4 with his only offensive failure being a rolling grounder to first base in the fourth inning.

Oh, and two of his three singles amounted to a team-leading four RBI on the day. Those happened to be the most Saltalamacchia has hammered home in a game since he plated four of his fellow Texas Rangers against Cleveland on May 23, 2008.

As the Sox batted around in the first inning, the No. 8 slotted Saltalamacchia broke open a 5-2 lead with a two-run single to deep right, scoring both David Ortiz and Carl Crawford. Four innings later, now with an 8-3 advantage in hand, he sent Crawford and Josh Reddick home and effectively ended Mariners pitcher Aaron Laffey’s failed firefighting attempt (no outs, three hits, four runs).

Saltalamacchia’s last at-bat in the bottom of the seventh was relatively productive as well. With no reason not to dig for insurance in light of Brendan Ryan’s grand slam in the top half, he followed up on Reddick’s leadoff single by depositing another base hit in right field and sending Reddick to third.

Reddick would proceed to score Boston’s 11th run, though Saltalamacchia was stranded for the third time in as many base-running endeavors. That effectively brought an end to his five-game run-scoring streak.

Regardless, with one of his hotter hit streaks still intact, Saltalamacchia has now logged four such streaks lasting at least four games during his first full season with the Red Sox. And while he continues to consume only a little more than half of the catching workload, he has collected a hit on consecutive days in nine out of 14 opportunities this year.

That includes the two Seattle games this weekend and his previous two games versus the Orioles on both Monday and Tuesday of last week. Within those four games, Saltalamacchia has hit 7-for-16, belted two home runs in Baltimore, scored four runs and driven in another seven.

He could still stand to cut down on how often he is benched on strikes. After all, he has whiffed on average more frequently than any other Boston batter (60 out of 205 at-bats), and he has had 21 multi-strikeout games.

Nonetheless, Saltalamacchia is also getting on base with enough consistency to meet the demands of his position in the Red Sox batting order. He is on pace to set himself new standards in nearly every offensive category, including his first double-digit home run campaign.

On the whole, his offensive and defensive numbers alike are right in line with what the 39-year-old Varitek is achieving.

And remember, one of those masked men is expected to, at least soon if not immediately, decline. The other has a bevy of time and room to continuously enhance his caliber.