10/15/08 6:05 PM ET
Varitek's rally cry could spark team
Cool captain has done it before as Red Sox face elimination
By Ian Browne / MLB.com
He carries with him a sense of confidence that hasn't wavered, even with the Red Sox trailing the Rays 3-1 and facing the prospect of elimination on Thursday night in Game 5. Varitek has no time to ponder the worst.
"We've got nothing but baseball ahead of us. We'll be ready to play our game," promised Varitek. "Guys came out, got their work in, everybody is going about their business like we normally do. There's a sense of excitement."
Boston's invaluable catcher is also in the final weeks of a four-year contract with the team that has employed him since July 1997, but you wouldn't know that either.
"That's totally irrelevant right now with what this team is facing," said Varitek.
With his team on the brink of elimination yet again, Varitek has too many tasks on his plate to focus on any individual subplots.
His goal as the captain is to once again help steer the ship out of choppy waters. He has plenty of experience at it.
In 1999, Varitek's first season as a starting catcher, the Red Sox were down 2-0 against the Indians and rallied back to win that best-of-five AL Division Series. Faced with that precise situation against the Athletics in '03, Varitek and the Red Sox did it again.
Then, there was 2004, when Varitek and the Red Sox trailed the Yankees 3-0 in the ALCS, a deficit no team had emerged from in any postseason series.
Four years later, former Red Sox right fielder Trot Nixon remembers well the impact Varitek had on that historic comeback against the Yankees.
"Jason Varitek said it best: 'Look, we can't worry about winning four games. We've got to worry about breaking it down to nine innings, and then breaking it down further to pitch by pitch.' Obviously, there was a lot of pressure to do that," Nixon said. "We didn't want to be swept here by the Yankees at home. I think guys had that mind-set, make some plays."
Part of Nixon cringed last year when he was with the Indians, up 3-1 against the Red Sox. He knew that Varitek was on the other side and he knew the type of resolve that was being instilled over in the other clubhouse.
"Once they won Game 5 and Game 6, and I said I guarantee you -- and I heard it later -- that 'Tek told that same speech about breaking it down," said Nixon.
Varitek will again have some words for his team, and the one thing he will never do is say them in a public forum.
|* Won final two on the road.|
Though Varitek would love to get on the board offensively -- as evidenced by his extra batting practice -- he won't let it deter from what he feels is the key to his team getting back on track.
"There's quite a few keys, but we need to start with our pitching," Varitek said. "My importance is trying to figure it out with [the pitchers] and making sure we hold them at bay."
How much can the Red Sox draw on history in a situation like this?
"Well, I don't want to harp on it too much, because we've got to focus on playing, but it leaves a sense of belief everywhere," said Varitek.
And as he notes, that can be half the battle at times.
"It wasn't just '04 and '07," said Varitek. "We've been able to do it other times. We did it the one time with Jimy [Williams in 1999]. And once you're able to do it, it leaves an over-riding belief. I believe. I believe that if we execute what we can do, we're going to present ourselves with a great chance to win."
In many ways, Varitek is the glue to the Red Sox.
"When Jason puts a finger down, there's a pretty good chance that the pitcher is throwing that pitch with conviction," said Red Sox manager Terry Francona. "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."
Daisuke Matsuzaka, Boston's Game 5 starter, will put his trust in Varitek as the Red Sox take their first crack at staving off elimination.
"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."
The Red Sox can only hope that this isn't the last time Varitek will be around to help lead them back from the brink.
Ian Browne is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.