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Varitek relishing his playing days

Varitek relishing his playing days

ANAHEIM -- The captain held court at his locker before Thursday's workout, and it was suggested that 10 years from now, he could be the manager of the Red Sox.

"Ten years from now, I expect to be playing," said Red Sox catcher Jason Varitek.

If he does, he'll be 46 years old, the same age that Nolan Ryan finally stopped pitching.

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"I'm going to give it a try," Varitek said.

And then managing?

"To be honest, I'm not even thinking about that right now," Varitek said. "As much time as I put into this season and in my workout program, I don't even have time to think about it. Right now, I'm relishing the time I have to play."

Right now, he is playing in the American League Division Series, the leader of the Red Sox who guided pitchers Jon Lester, Justin Masterson and Jonathan Papelbon to a 4-1 victory in Game 1 against the Angels on Wednesday night.

Varitek was 0-for-3 at the plate, and 2008 has not been a good offensive season for him. He hit .220 this season, and that's not good going into free agency. But that hardly seemed to matter to him on Thursday morning in the afterglow of the Red Sox's terrific pitching. They have now allowed the Angels just five runs over their last four playoff games going back to last year.

"That's the fun thing about my job," Varitek said. "I could go 0-for-4 or 0-for-3 like last night and come away happy because we won. That's the most important thing about my job -- getting the pitcher through the game."

Varitek takes his job seriously, often arriving at the ballpark seven hours before a game to begin preparing for battle. He pores over scouting reports, looks at video, talks with coaches and meets with pitchers, all trying to find the edge.

Josh Beckett called Varitek the "most prepared baseball player" that he has been around. Former Blue Jays manager Buck Martinez called him a "virtual computer." Varitek has his opinions and isn't hesitant to say what he feels but isn't inclined to dictate policy to every pitcher on every pitch.

Most postseason games caught in Major League history
Player No.
1. Jorge Posada 95
2. Yogi Berra 63
3. Javier Lopez 60
4. Jason Varitek 53
5. Sandy Alomar Jr. 49

"Every pitcher is different," Varitek explained. "Some guys want to sit down and go over the hitters in detail. Some don't want to know a whole lot."

It would seem strange for a young pitcher to shake off Varitek, but it happens and he doesn't mind.

"It's not about being shaken off or me being right," he said. "I'm just trying to put them in the best situation to succeed.

Then the game begins and the battle starts all over again, as hitters adjust and pitchers show Varitek what they have going and what they don't on that particularly day. Varitek said he would need seven fingers to call all the pitches that Daisuke Matsuzaka can throw but tries to narrow it down to a manageable four or five as the game progresses.

Varitek knows a guy like Bret Saberhagen could warm up at 72 mph in the bullpen, then hit 92 mph with the first pitch of the game. The important thing is having a feel for each pitcher.

Apparently, Varitek does. The numbers show that over the past 10 years, the Red Sox are tied with the Angels for the second-lowest team ERA in the Majors. Only three catchers in history have caught more playoff games.

"He does a tremendous amount for our pitchers," pitching coach John Farrell said. "He has a great understanding, not only of their strengths and what's working for them, but also he understands the opposing hitters and what they're trying to do, the adjustments they're making. He can tell if their changing their footwork at the plate or trying to pull the ball early in the game.

"Our pitchers have a tremendous amount of trust in him and that allows them to relax. When a pitcher relaxes, it allows them to bring out their best stuff."

Maybe that's why he'll still be playing in 10 years. Or managing. No doubt, he'll be doing something.

"I love the game too much not to," Varitek said.

T.R. Sullivan is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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{"content":["division_series" ] }
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