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Jason Varitek’s 10 most memorable moments as a Red Sox

Jason Varitek [1] will announce his retirement from baseball on Thursday. Varitek, the longtime captain and backstop of the Red Sox [2], has been viewed as the heart and soul of the team by many for the better part of the last 15 years, helping the Red Sox to two World Series [3] championships and seven postseason appearances. Varitek has accrued many personal accolades along the way, including three All-Star selections, a Gold Glove and a Silver Slugger.

Varitek’s lengthy career with the Red Sox meant he developed a wealth of memorable moments in his career. Following are 10 of the most unforgettable moments of Varitek’s tenure with the Red Sox.

10. The Trade – July 31, 1997

If not for a somewhat under-the-radar deadline deal in 1997, who knows what the last 15 years would have held for the Red Sox. On July 31, 1997, then-general manager Dan Duquette dealt reliever Heathcliff Slocumb to the Mariners [4] for starter Derek Lowe [5] and Varitek, who, at the time, was a Triple-A backstop. Slocumb spent just two years in Seattle, going 2-9 with a 4.97 ERA before spending parts of his next two seasons with three different teams, compiling a 3-2 record and an above-4.00 ERA before his career came to an end after the 2000 season.

9. The broken elbow – June 7, 2001

In one of the lower moments of his career, Varitek suffered a broken arm in 2001 after laying out to catch a foul ball in the on-deck circle of a June game against the Tigers. Varitek had been enjoying a breakout season with the Red Sox prior to the injury. After hitting a combined .259 over his first two seasons, Varitek hit .293 in his first 51 games in 2001. Varitek was close to matching his 10 home runs from the previous season (in which he played in 139 games) with seven home runs through those first 51 games. More importantly, the team was doing well with Varitek behind the plate and struggled in his absence. The Red Sox were 30-21 with Varitek in the lineup that year. After he suffered the elbow injury, Varitek missed the remainder of the season, and the Red Sox went 52-58 without him.8. The Triple – Oct. 24, 2004

Varitek was never the most valuable hitter on the team, and this was certainly true during the 2004 World Series, when his work behind the plate was invaluable but his work in the box itself registered just a .154 batting average. But it was Varitek who set the tone for the Red Sox in Game 2 of the 2004 World Series when, with two outs in the bottom of the first and runners on first and second, Varitek tripled to the triangle, ripping his pants as he slid into third while plating two runs for the Red Sox. The scoreboard cushion was highly important for Boston that night, as Curt Schilling [6] and his bloody ankle was on the mound. Although Schilling managed to pitch well despite his ankle injury, he was still a question mark when he took the mound.

7. The suicide squeeze – Oct. 6, 2008

In Game 4 of the 2008 ALDS against the Angels, Varitek proved vital on a key play in the top of the ninth. The game was tied 2-2  and Erick Aybar was batting against Manny Delcarmen [7] with one out and pinch runner Reggie Willits [8] threatening on third.

Varitek, mindful of the advanced scouting report, sniffed out a potential squeeze and had Delcarmen fire a pitch up-and-in as Willits took off towards home and Aybar attempted — unsuccessfully — to bunt his teammate in. The catcher turned an inside strike from Delcarmen around and caught Willits between third and home, saving the Red Sox from falling behind the Angels in the ninth inning. In the bottom of the frame, the Red Sox earned the walk-off win when Jason Bay [9] scored on a Jed Lowrie [10] single through the right side to win the game and the series.

6. The plate block – Oct. 4, 2003

The Red Sox lost the first two games of a best-of-five ALDS in 2003 when Varitek again changed the course of a postseason series. Varitek’s awareness and tough play at the plate prevented the Athletics from scoring when, with runners on the corners in the top of the sixth and the Athletics facing a 1-0 deficit, Miguel Tejada [11] sent a dribbler down the third base line. Lowe fielded the ball and threw it to Varitek, who blocked the plate and tripped up Eric Byrnes, who was attempting to score on the play. Byrnes was so thrown off from the play that he started to walk back to the dugout without touching the plate, but an aware Varitek was on his game. He ran over to tag out a confused and frustrated Byrnes. Although the Athletics went on to tie the game later in the inning, Varitek prevented a run and completely interfered with Byrnes’s ability to play the smart baseball necessary to win in the postseason.

5. The home run – Oct. 18, 2008

Varitek had his second-worst season of his career in 2008, when he hit .220 and scored just 37 runs in 131 games. Varitek was especially dreadful at the plate in the 2008 ALCS against the Rays, as he hit an astoundingly low .050, recording one hit throughout the entire seven-game series. But that one hit was a big one. In the sixth inning of Game 6 of the 2008 ALDS, the Red Sox were stuck in a 2-2 tie against against James Shields [12] when Varitek hit an two-out home run to give the team a lead it would never relinquish. The hit sparked a two-out rally that helped the Red Sox earn an insurance run later that inning, and Boston coasted to a 4-2 win that helped the team advance to Game 7 of an ALCS in which they rallied from a 3-1 series deficit before falling in Game 7.

4. The Captain – Dec. 24, 2004

Varitek had long been a leader for the Red Sox before he received recognition for his influence in the clubhouse. After the 2004 season, the Red Sox decided to make Varitek’s importance to the team a public point of pride when then-general manager Theo Epstein [13] surprised Varitek on Christmas Eve day with a C on his jersey after signing him to a four-year, $40 million contract.

“In our minds, he was the guy that we couldn’t live without,” Theo Epstein said at the press conference announcing Varitek’s new contract. “There weren’t any real alternatives. Jason’s kind of the heart and soul of the Red Sox.”

3. The World Series – 2004 and 2007

Varitek was an integral part of both the 2004 and 2007 World Series squads. He was the unofficial leader of the 2004 team who ended the 86-year World Series drought, and he was the official leader of the 2007 team that proved the Red Sox were not a fluke but rather a team to contend with in this new century. Much of Varitek’s worth is hard to measure with statistics, as his game-calling knowledge and presence behind the plate provided a calming touch to the pitching staff that does not show up in numerical form. In 2004, Varitek hit just .154 in the World Series but started three of four games. During the 2007 World Series, Varitek provided plenty of offensive spark for the team, as he went 5-for-15 in the four-game sweep with two runs scored and five RBIs. He started all four games of that World Series and was again lauded in New England after hoisting the World Series trophy for the second time in his career.

2. The no-hitters – 2001, 2002, 2007 and 2008

Varitek’s influence with his pitching staff has been well-documented, and the best physical representation of his skill guiding pitchers is proven by the four no-hitters Varitek has caught in his career, the most of any catcher in history. Varitek’s first no-hitter came in 2001, when Hideo Nomo made his first start as a Red Sox. Nomo tossed a no-hitter that day, striking out 11 Orioles and walking three on 110 pitches. Varitek’s second no-hitter came on April 27, 2002, when Varitek’s trade partner, Lowe, spun a no-no against the then-Devil Rays, striking out six and walking one on 97 pitches. Clay Buchholz [14] became the third pitcher to throw a no-hitter with Varitek behind the plate, as he no-hit the Orioles on Sept. 1, 2007 in his second career start. Varitek made history when he caught Jon Lester [15]‘s no-hitter on May 19, 2008 against Kansas City, becoming the first catcher in Major League history to catch four no-hitters in his career.

1. The fight – July 24, 2004

The pinnacle of Varitek’s career is representative of his value as a teammate. In a marathon game against the Yankees [16] on July 24, 2004, Varitek was behind what has been called the turning point of the 2004 season [17]. The Red Sox trailed the Yankees by 9 1/2 games in the AL East standings and had suffered an 8-7 loss to New York the previous night. In the third inning of the game, the Red Sox were trailing 3-0 when Bronson Arroyo [18] hit Alex Rodriguez [19] with a pitch, causing Rodriguez to fire off a string of obscenities directed toward Arroyo. Varitek wasn’t having it. He stepped in between Rodriguez and his pitcher, and when Rodriguez volunteered to take the matter to the next level, Varitek bit, shoving his mitt into Rodriguez’s face and inciting a bench-clearing brawl. The Red Sox mounted a comeback after the fight, winning the game 11-10 via a three-run rally in the bottom of the ninth. The Red Sox finished out the regular season with a 44-19 record after the fight after going 52-44 before it, winning the wild card, then eventually the pennant and the World Series.