It would have been easy to take the bait. Acknowledge that, yes, September is a traditionally difficult month offensively for catchers. That the season has been wearing him down. That the injuries he rarely admits to have caught up with him, making his bat slow and his stroke impotent. Instead, Jason Varitek claimed health, blamed his eyes, and thanked, once again, the help he can give the team without a bat in his hand.
Not that any of that took away from the facts. Varitek keeps striking out, keeps leaving men on base. He ended three of the first five innings in Saturday's game, stranding seven runners, and preventing the Red Sox from breaking the game open even earlier than they did.
Last night, he ended the first and sixth innings, stranding four, but he walked to open the ninth against Mariano Rivera, scoring on Julio Lugo's double.
"I do a lot of things on feel and I know sometimes you get away from it as a hitter," Varitek said before yesterday's 4-3 loss to the Yankees. "My biggest attribute, the biggest thing that I'm gifted with, is my eyes. Sometimes your mind gets in the way of your eyes, when you start to do too many things. Too many things going on that you're trying to correct. The biggest thing that helps me as a catcher is I can do an analytical job and use my brain. And that's the biggest thing that hurts me as a hitter."
As for the belief that, since he's clearly struggling with the bat, there must be some injury that is hindering his offense, Varitek said he was as healthy as he could be, given the toll catching takes. It's not like last season, when he came back from surgery to repair his torn meniscus and hit .224 in September with 27 strikeouts in 58 at-bats, fanning 13 times in his final 18 tries.
"Physically, I'm doing pretty good," Varitek said. "I wish I could use that as an excuse. I've just got to do a little better job with myself, just being able to see the ball the way I want to. I wish I could say it was because of physical things, but it's not."
Ask manager Terry Francona, though, and a different answer comes out.
"There's a lot to be said for that," he said of the fatigue issue. "I think any catcher in the league, you're going to lose at-bats if you care enough about catching. There're times when Jason comes off the field and he's leading off the inning and he's gotten a pitcher corralled next to him. So he's running up to his at-bat, where with other positions you can think about your at-bats more, things like that.
"And the wear and tear of catching. There's no way to get around it."
Either way, this September has not been kind to Varitek, though it rarely has been over his career, and rarely is for many catchers. Over his 12 starts in the month, with one pinch hit in a 13th game, Varitek has 20 strikeouts in 43 at-bats. He has left 43 men on base in his starts and has gone 0 for 18 and 2 for 27.
He'll try video study and rely on his knowledge of himself and the game to get back on target with the bat. He reaffirmed that when the team locks up its spot in the postseason, he'll be able to take a breath. And maybe figure it all out.
"I have to be able to put that aside and go out there and focus on getting guys out when things are like that with me offensively," Varitek said.