Fenway salutes Varitek for years of service


By Sean McAdam

BOSTON -- In a better, more fair world, the ball soaring toward the home bullpen in right field would have had a little more carry to it and the final at-bat would have resulted in a dramatic homer.

Instead, the ball fell maybe five or six feet shy of the wall for the second out in the bottom of the eighth.

If that was it -- the final plate appearance of Jason Varitek's Red Sox career -- so be it. Not everyone has the same experience as Ted Williams.

Varitek never aspired to Williams' class. But the case can be made that he's the best catcher in Red Sox history not named Carlton Fisk.

After the Red Sox' 8-4 win over the New York Yankees in the final regular-season game, Varitek was not in the mood to place his season, his career, into perspective.

The emotion of the last week had been enough. In Chicago, five nights earlier, he had choked up when asked if he had given much thought to his career Boston possibly coming to a close. Sunday, he had his parents and daughters on hand -- just in case.

"I don't know what the future holds,'' he said. "But it was a good day today.''

On Saturday, the Red Sox had held a special day to celebrate Mike Lowell's career with the team. But Lowell had announced his retirement and there was no uncertainty, no ambiguity about his future. Lowell was going home, by his own choosing, so the Sox pulled out all the stops and paid him tribute.

The same could not be done with Varitek. He's on record as saying he intends to catch for several more years and believes he can be productive, somewhere.

It's just highly unlikely that it will be with the Red Sox. Whether the Sox re-sign No. 1 catcher Victor Martinez, they have Jarrod Saltalamacchia to serve as the back-up receiver in 2011. If Martinez isn't re-signed, the Sox will get a free agent catcher (John Buck? Gerald Laird?) and wait to see how quickly either Saltalamacchia, Luis Exposito or Ryan Lavarnway develop.

So the Sox did the best they could for Varitek. Fate had him coming to the plate in the eighth, and the fans, anticipating his last at-bat, saluted him with a loud and long ovation.

"I had to really take a few deep breaths,'' admitted Varitek.

After his warning track flyout in the bottom of the eighth, Terry Francona had Kevin Cash secretly put on the catching gear, ready to take over for Varitek in the top of the ninth, allowing the crowd to say "Thanks,'' one more time, and perhaps, however understated, "Goodbye,'' too.

Would he like to return to Boston?

"Absolutely,'' he said without hesitation. "We'll just have to see what happens. But I do appreciate the fan support, the respect of my teammates. This has been a special place for me.''

He recalled the championships in 2004 and 2007, when he was more of an integral part of the lineup.

"It's been a special run,'' he said.

And then, typically, he began citing the contributions of others -- managers, coaches, and teammates who had come and gone. Among current teammates, only Tim Wakefield trumps him in seniority with the Sox. Now, both are being phased out.

Time marches on. And so, likely, will Varitek.

Does he have difficulty imagining himself in another uniform.

"Yes,'' said Varitek.

And with that, the timer on the ice wrap around his shoulder beeped repeatedly. It was hard not to make the obvious parallel: time was up.

Sean McAdam can be reached at smcadam@comcastsportsnet.com. Follow Sean on Twitter at http:twitter.comsean_mcadam.

Contact Us