The nerves are almost as awful for the person catching a perfect game as they are for the one throwing it. As Jon Lester carved up the Toronto Blue Jays over the course of a complete-game, one-hit shutout, Jarrod Saltalamacchia had to manage as much as he could, from the range of pitches Lester had working to the free-swinging Blue Jays lineup.
“As a catcher, there’s some anxiety just because you know they’re aggressive,” Saltalamacchia said. “You can’t control where the ball goes. You’re just calling a pitch that you think’s a good spot. But with this pitching staff, the anxiety kind of goes away because you know those guys can go out there and compete. Even the last time he faced them, he didn’t have his best stuff, but he still threw the ball pretty well. He kept us in the ballgame, we were able to put some runs on the board. But tonight, I don’t think whoever we were facing could have hit him.”
Lester sat down the first 17 Blue Jays he faced in the Red Sox’s 5-0 win, and Saltalamacchia said it was as easy as putting his finger down to signal the pitch he wanted and watching Lester hit his glove.
“My job was easy,” he said. “I put the glove there and he hit it. He’s just been working really hard, focusing on trying to get on top of the ball and I don’t feel like he was really trying hard tonight.”
The work started once Saltalamacchia stepped to the plate.
He had been trying to figure out his swing for a while. In the 18 games after he went to 3 for 4 against April 10 against the Orioles, Saltalamacchia hit .193 (11 for 57) with two home runs, five RBIs and five extra-base hits. But over the past five outings, he’s worked with the Red Sox’s hitting coaches to figure out the best approach at the plate. In the five games since that dry spell, he’s 7 for 14, feeling more comfortable at the plate after working with the Red Sox’s hitting coaches.
“There was probably not one game leading up to about a week or a week and a half ago where I felt comfortable,” he said. “I was still searching but I was still able to get a couple hits here and there. I’ve really kind of been working … just trying to stay through the ball, not trying to pull too much. And I was able to take that into the game.”
Going 2 for 4 with a double and an RBI helped the Sox pull away from the Jays in the later innings and allowed Lester to take the mound relatively worry-free to close out the game.
More than his day at the plate, what stayed on Saltalamacchia’s mind was the one call he made that kept Lester from achieving perfection, a change up to Maicer Izturis in the sixth. But in the larger scheme, it was irrelevant.
“As soon as the game was over I started thinking about it,” Saltalamacchia said. “ Changeup first pitch, I’m going to have nightmares about it to be honest with you. But it was a good-hitting ballclub. You know they’re going to be aggressive. We kind of waited them out at their place and we couldn’t throw a strike. So it worked in their favor. Tonight, they hit a couple balls had. Lawrie hit some balls hard that were right at people that went in our favor, but I mean, when Jonny’s throwing the ball like he is, you’ve got to expect that.”