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Varitek gets invitation to camp

By Peter Abraham
Globe Staff / February 18, 2012
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FORT MYERS Fla. - General manager Ben Cherington said yesterday that the Red Sox have offered Jason Varitek a minor league contract with an invitation to spring training. But that is as far as they will go.

With pitchers and catchers reporting tomorrow, there is no indication that Varitek will accept the offer.

Friends are saying they believe he will follow the lead of longtime teammate Tim Wakefield and retire rather than come to camp without any guarantees.

“Because I don’t expect any additions, I guess I don’t expect that [Varitek] would be here on Sunday. That’s something, again, that we’ve agreed with Jason to continue to talk to him, let him make that decision. He needs to make it on his own, and I respect that,’’ Cherington said.

Cherington has been speaking in recent weeks with agent Scott Boras regarding the situation.

“We told him that there was an opportunity to come to camp, and gave him, as we did with Tim, as much of the landscape as we could in terms of what that would mean,’’ Cherington said.

“Again, [it’s] a unique situation. To put that in a player’s court [is] not normally what we do. Within these two particularly cases, we felt that there was merit to doing it that way because of what the players meant to the team.’’

The team captain, Varitek hit .221 with a .300 on-base percentage last season.

Playoff legacy

Wakefield was 5-7 with a 6.75 ERA in 18 postseason games. But that doesn’t begin to tell the story.

He was spectacular in two starts against the Yankees in the 2003 American League Championship Series, beating Mike Mussina in Game 1 and again in Game 4. Wakefield allowed three runs over 13 innings.

Wakefield came out of the bullpen in Game 7, entering a 5-5 game in the 10th inning. He retired three dangerous hitters - Hideki Matsui, Jorge Posada, and Jason Giambi - in order. But Aaron Boone hit the first pitch of the bottom of the 11th into the stands in left field to send the Yankees to the World Series.

Wakefield helped save the battered Red Sox in Game 3 of the 2004 ALCS when he pitched 3 1/3 innings after the Yankees took a 9-6 lead.

That cost Wakefield his start in Game 4. But he bounced back and pitched three innings of scoreless relief to win Game 5 at Fenway Park. It was Wakefield’s pitching that put David Ortiz in position to win the game with a single in the 14th inning.

“I think Wake’s career can be embodied by Game 3 against the Yankees in the 2004 ALCS. With the team down, he came to me in the fourth inning and asked what he could do,’’ former manager Terry Francona said.

“He pitched more than three innings that game, sacrificing his start the next day for the good of the team. A lot of what he did went under the radar.’’

Once the Red Sox got to the World Series, Wakefield was hit hard in Game 1 against the Cardinals but watched his teammates come away with an 11-9 victory en route to a sweep.

Leadership role

Jarrod Saltalamacchia doesn’t know if Varitek will retire. But regardless, the 26-year-old catcher plans to become more of a leader. “I’m looking forward to kind of taking more of a leader’s role to get us where we need to be,’’ he said. “It’s not one person on this team that’s going to make us get where we need to be. It’s going to be a team effort. I’m going to do the best I can. I don’t feel any added pressure because we’re going to do it together. When I say leader, I’m not going to have a ‘C’ on my chest. I’m not going to tell people what to do. But I’m going to go about my business the right way and lead by example a little bit on that front of it.’’ . . . Chief operating officer Sam Kennedy said ticket sales for regular-season home games are at the same pace as they were last year. Spring training sales are ahead of last season.

Peter Abraham can be reached at pabraham@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @PeteAbe.

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