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Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Let's get Tek-nichal

As SportsCenter first pointed out, (for me anyway) Jason Varitek's role in Jon Lester's no-hitter was the fourth of its kind that he's caught in the major league's, good for first all-time. (By the way, he also hit a two-run homer Monday night.)
So it is in the midst of Mike Piazza's retirement as the greatest hitting catcher of all-time that I ponder Varitek's place among best game-calling catchers of all-time. It can't be a coincidence that he's caught each of the last four Boston no-hitters: Lester's, Clay Buchholz last year, Derek Lowe in 2002 and Hideo Nomo in 2001.
He's caught one for some diverse player personalities as well: from a former Asian savior in Nomo, to more of a veteran in Lowe, to the second career start of a rookie in Buchholz and finally to the gritty cancer-survivor turned walking inspiration in Lester.
Forget things like number of shut-outs or strikeouts caught by different catchers over time, we're talking about the biggest single-game defensive accomplishment possible for the man in position No. 2. It's the equivalent of how many times an offensive lineman has blocked for a 220-yard game by a running back.
You might argue that there have been more no-hitters (256 by my count) than 220-yard rushing games (I couldn't find a number) but remember that the number of games in a football season is less than 10 percent of the games in a baseball season, and that baseball has been around considerably longer.
By catching four no-hitters Varitek has done something more impressive than pitching one. The catcher is the only person that the pitcher looks at before every pitch, and in many cases, relies on to call those pitches. And most important of all, after about the fourth inning the catcher is usually the only person who communicates with the pitcher because of superstitions.
Varitek has done all these things perfectly (well, minus the nine walks in the games) four times. He's almost as important as a caddie is to a player in contention to win a golf tournament. In 2005, one of the years he actually didn't catch a no-hitter, he won the American League Gold Glove Award.
And don't forget that he's the team captain of a Boston squad that in 2004 and 2007 won its first world championships since 1918.
With someone who does so much right behind the plate, how can a pitcher ever be worried that something could go wrong?
Varitek is more than a great catcher, he's a team changer. He's the Tim Duncan of baseball. He's got that gritty look of a veteran with not always flashy but still sufficient stats that have done nothing but make his team successful.
Does his accomplishment with Lester further prove his value as a great game-caller? Yes, but more than that, it also propels him into the threshold of purely all-time great catchers.

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