Tuesday, May 20, 2008

No X 4 = Yes

Yesterday was a pretty exciting day for Red Sox fans: John Lester pitched a no-hitter. Always a stunning event, the story is especially incredible with Lester, who was diagnosed with lymphoma 2 years ago (!) and made a recovery sufficiently strong to pitch the 4th and final game of last year's World Series and then this extremely rare achievement of a no-hitter. Kind of a lot to have done by the age of 24, don't you agree?

But let me take a moment to focus on the other guy in that photo. Jason Varitek, Captain of Red Sox Nation, center of the team, and one of the best catchers in baseball. Last night he caught his fourth no-hitter. Count 'em: four. More than anyone else in the history of baseball. On any team ever. I don't want to get too carried away here, but this man arguably has as much to do with the Red Sox Championships as anyone else, including Ramirez, Ortiz, and Francona.

I mean, sure - it's 10 times easier to catch a no-hitter than to throw one. But a great catcher, a strong veteran leader who understands his pitcher, the batters and the game in general can go a loooong way in helping the event. And look at the authors of the no nos he's caught: Nomo, Lowe, Buchholz and Lester - first rate pitchers, yes, but not exactly a who's who of Cy Young winners (though he's called the shots impeccably for future Hall of Famers like Pedro Martinez and Curt Schilling, too). You better believe that Varitek's help calling pitches, leading the team and keeping the hurlers centered had something to do with those games. Did you see the game earlier this year when Buchholz, barely out of his (part of a) rookie season, shook him off three times in a row? Tek let him throw the fastball, and it got shelled for a double. The look on Jason's face afterwards was priceless: "I've been around here a while kid. Helped you get through that no-hitter in your second start last year; don't you think I know what pitch is gonna work?"

And it bears repeating: nobody has ever caught 4 of these gems. Not Yogi Berra, not Johnny Bench, not Roy Campanella, nobody. Has Jason been lucky? No doubt. Has he been helped by some great defense? Hells yes. But I think that this record is more important than the attention it's going to receive, and tells us a lot about the success of the Red Sox.

There's no way Varitek will make the Hall of Fame. He's never hit .300, his RBI production is not that great, and neither is his arm (especially in his early years, people could steal bases against him with relative ease). But don't be surprised if people who know a lot more about the game than I do mention him as one of the great catchers and team-leaders of his era, if not of all time.

1 comment:

lisa said...

Hey, speaking of catchers, did you catch (no pun intended) Geo Soto's inside the park home run?! 1st place Cubs....last place Yankees....I'm greatly enjoying baseball right now :-)