Jason Varitek wouldn't acknowledge it yesterday, but tonight's game at Fenway Park could be the team captain's last in a Red Sox uniform. Given a contract that expires after this season, and a markedly poor offensive year, there could be a parting of the ways between Varitek and the only major league team he has played for.
Asked if he had thought about that possibility, Varitek said, "That's totally irrelevant now to what this team is facing. Sorry about that."
Manager Terry Francona echoed his catcher, saying, "I've given no thought to this being his last game, not out of disrespect to Tek, but we don't want this to be his last game."
Varitek faced the same issue in the 2004 postseason as the Sox pushed toward their first World Series title in 86 years. But that offseason, the Sox signed him to a four-year, $40 million deal.
While the Sox don't have much in the way of catching in their minor league system, there is no guarantee Varitek will return. He had the worst offensive year of his career in 2008: a .220 average with a .313 on-base percentage and a .359 slugging percentage. As good as his skills are at calling a game, those are difficult numbers to abide out of a starting catcher.
It has gotten worse for him offensively in the postseason. Varitek is hitless in 10 at-bats in the American League Championship Series and went 3 for 14 in the Division Series.
Still, it is hard to overlook what he can do for a pitching staff, and how much pitchers enjoy throwing to him.
"When Jason puts a finger down, there's a pretty good chance that the pitcher is throwing that pitch with conviction," Francona said. "If a major league pitcher has got stuff like Daisuke [Matsuzaka] or [Jon ] Lester [and] is throwing a pitch with conviction, I'm not sure it can be a wrong pitch. And because of Tek's preparation, that's what's going to happen. That doesn't happen overnight, that takes a long time, and Tek deserves that. But it really does help, and there's something to that. You don't see a lot of guys out there wondering or second-guessing Jason. That's very, very helpful."
Matsuzaka seconded that thought. And though it wasn't quite the same as the "Re-sign Lowell" sign Varitek held during the Sox' victory parade last year, Matsuzaka cast a vote for Varitek's return.
"For two years over all those games that Varitek has caught for me, I've been able to pitch with less and less stress over that time, and that certainly has helped me in my performance as well," Matsuzaka said through interpreter Masa Hoshino. "Any time a pitcher pairs up with a new catcher, there's some adjustments that need to be made, and it's not an easy process. So I just hope I get to be paired up with the same catcher for as long as possible."
Ortiz not worriedThough David Ortiz managed to extricate himself from his 0-for-14 skid with an improbable triple Tuesday night, he has not been the overpowering offensive figure he has been in the past. He hasn't looked right at the plate all series, nor did he in batting practice during the team's optional workout yesterday at Fenway Park.
"I'm all right," Ortiz said after Game 4. "I'm dealing with my hands and stuff. Right now it's a situation that is a [do]-or-die situation and I don't want to put too many things in my head."
When asked about it again yesterday, Ortiz said, "I'm OK. Next question."