In the final hours of the 1997 trading deadline, Red Sox GM Dan Duquette dumped ineffective closer Hathcliffe Slocumb on the Seattle Mariners, eager to be rid of a bullpen headache that was 0-5 with a 5.79 ERA, worst on the staff.
In return, Duquette received a pair of youngsters, minor-league catcher Jason Varitek and rookie pitcher Derek Lowe. Of course, we all know the rest — Lowe became one of just three pitchers to both win 20 games and save 40, pitched the first Fenway Park no-hitter in 40 years, and won the clinching games of all three postseason series in 2004. By that measure alone, the deal was a steal — especially considering Slocumb was out of baseball by 2001.
But there was Varitek, who tonight passed Carlton Fisk as the franchise leader in games caught, with 991. (For good measure, he celebrated by scoring Boston’s lone run in the 1-0 win).
It’s not strictly a performance-based statistic, like Mariano Rivera’s 400 saves. But it’s significant — a measure of the steady, solid performance Varitek has given the Red Sox for the better part of eight seasons. Last year, Varitek was effectively named the best catcher in the AL, winning both the Gold Glove and Silver Slugger and affirming what Sox fans have known for years. He also was named team captain, just the third Sox player to be so recognized since 1923.
With Varitek’s milestone, it’s simply another link between him and the Hall of Fame catcher whose number resides on the right-field facade.
Not only are Fisk and Varitek linked by their status as the best catchers in the long history of the Boston Red Sox, they are linked by the two greatest postseason memories in that history — Fisk with his wave-it-fair Game 6 home run in 1975, and Varitek finally cracking a smile as he leapt into the arms of Keith Foulke in 2004.
I wasn’t there, but I suspect Red Sox fans were all a little bit of Carlton Fisk in 1975: Jumping, waving, gesturing — then leaping, screaming, fist-pumping as the ball hit the pole. I know we were all a little bit of Jason Varitek in 2004: Waiting, hoping, disbelieving — then running, jumping, grinning like fools.
We’re still grinning, Jason. Thank you, and congratulations.