10/09/09 8:50 PM EST
Varitek putting team before himself
Red Sox's captain not upset about his reduced role
By Joe Frisaro / MLB.com
Winning is foremost on his mind.
If that means the Red Sox veteran is asked to come off the bench, so be it. The 37-year-old, who has 63 career playoff games under his belt, is the consummate team player. Varitek's 11 playoff home runs are the most from the catcher position of any player in history. Jorge Posada of the Yankees has nine.
Victor Martinez is handling the catching duties in the American League Division Series against the Angels. If or when Varitek gets into the lineup will depend on the circumstances of each game.
You won't hear the Red Sox's captain complain about whatever role he's asked to assume.
"We're in the postseason. I don't know what's disappointing about being in the postseason," Varitek said. "Everybody in this locker room at some point has helped this team win games. What it's like to have this experience goes well beyond anything personally."
A 12-year veteran, Varitek's body is feeling the grind of playing in 1,439 big league games. He appeared in 109 games in 2009, and had a .209 batting average in 364 at-bats.
He understands the addition of Martinez from the Indians changes the dynamic of the ballclub.
Boston manager Terry Francona said from the time Martinez arrived, Varitek accepted his situation.
"He was kind of telling me not to tip-toe around him," Francona said. "Maybe I was. I actually don't know if I meant to. He sensed it. He said, 'Hey, tell me. I'm a big boy.' I think that really helped me. He's been terrific. He tries to do anything in his power to help us win."
It's not often a team captain comes off the bench, but Varitek has remained professional.
"Again, I know I've said it, but he's got a C on his chest," Francona said. "He earned that. And he hasn't unearned it. He's not playing as much for various reasons. We're always trying to do what we think is right, but that doesn't take away anything that he has brought to our team."
The respect Varitek has gained through the years crosses dugouts in the ALDS. Angels manager Mike Scioscia, a former catcher, is impressed by Varitek's leadership.
"I think he's just a prototypical winning catcher -- the guy that goes back there and understands the importance of calling 150 pitches," Scioscia said. "Having a pitcher execute the 150 pitches, and making anything you do offensively secondary to that.
"He will have an ugly at-bat and put that mask on and all of a sudden he's an All-Star catcher back there again. I think there's an important lesson for a lot of young catchers and something we certainly try to pound into our youngsters about the influence that you're going to have on a game. Even when he's not swinging the bat well, he's had as much of an influence on Boston's success in the last six, seven years as anybody over there."
Varitek is a big supporter of Martinez, a middle of the lineup threat.
"It's been great. I think we have a great relationship," Varitek said. "First, there is the respect factor of playing against each other, and then working together. It's worked out great for all of us.
"Vic's been great. He's been a huge part of this team, a huge part of our offense. He swings the bat really well, and he's done a good job behind the plate."
Renowned for how he handles the pitching staff, Varitek caught all but three of Josh Beckett's 32 starts.
But on Friday, Martinez was behind the plate with Beckett on the mound. If the Red Sox opted to start Varitek, then third baseman Mike Lowell would have been out of the lineup. Under that scenario, Martinez would play first base and Kevin Youkilis would switch from first to third base.
"We would have had to not play Lowell," Francona said. "I don't think that makes us a better team."
Martinez first caught Beckett on Aug. 18 at Toronto. His other two times working with Beckett came on Sept. 23 at Kansas City and Oct. 3 against Cleveland.
To veteran David Ortiz, not having Varitek in the lineup is different.
"Jason is our captain," Ortiz said. "Jason's been here for years. Personally, it's kind of weird [not] seeing him behind the plate. But we've got Victor coming in doing a good job, making our lineup better."
Joe Frisaro is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.