August 5, 2006 | Boston Globe | By Kelsie Smith
Just last week, Jason Varitek sat in the clubhouse, talking about Bill Mueller - or more specifically, about Mueller's two grand slams, one from each side of the plate, in the same game. Freshly showered and free of the ice that, after each game, envelops his body, Varitek smiled in envy of Mueller's feat - the only one of it's kind in major league history.
"I'm just looking for one," he said after the Red Sox' win over the Minnesota Twins last Saturday. "I don't care what side, just trying to get the first one off my back."
He was still trying yesterday when he walked to the plate in the fourth (his second at-bat that inning) with the bases loaded, a chance to drive in four runs, and to know that feeling Mueller knows. Varitek had been there before, 119 times in the batter's box with bags full, 119 times he couldn't get it done. "Actually, [hitting the grand slam] never even crossed my mind at that point," Varitek said. "I think sometimes maybe it has too much. I was trying to have a good at-bat, and maybe use the Wall if I had the opportunity to."
But this time, the 120th, he laced a 2 and 0 Leo Nunez pitch into the right-field stands. He rounded the bases in more of a run than a trot, as if he was eager to touch each one, to get home and greet his teammates, who were all hugs and high fives. The blast brought in Edgar Rentaria, David Ortiz and Robert Petagine, putting the Sox ahead, 9-5, in a game they went on to win, 11-9.
It was, said Varitek, a relief.
His 119 failed grand slam attempts prior to yesterday was the second-highest total in the major leagues. Philadelphia's David Bell, who has come up empty 123 bases-loaded at-bats, remains at the top of the list. Varitek's drough caused him much roasting in the clubhouse. As soon as his bat connected with the pitch, Varitek, jovial in his postgame question-and-answer session, said he thought the ball, along with the pressure, was gone. It's no wonder Varitek has grown frustrated with the streak. As perhaps the most studious member of the Sox, possibly even in the major leagues, the catcher knows the pitches he faces.
He knew about the right hander Nunez - that he has a good changeup, that he can tilt it into a splitter, and that he can throw hard. So Varitek planned to drive the ball up the middle when he found himself in a hitter's count, and took advantage. "That's the big thing," he said. "We've got almost the total career of most grand slams with Manny [Ramirez], and then the total career of most [bases-loaded] at-bats without a grand slam [with me]."
The rest of Varitek's day wasn't dissapointing, either. He went 2 for 4 with a double, a walk, and five RBI's and extended his hitting streak to 11 games. He's batting .308 on the season, second on the team only to Johnny Damon's .338. And his 24 doubles are third behind Ortiz (29) and Damon (29). The grand slam was his 17th home run of the season.
Manager Terry Francona expressed some lighthearted regret that the team lost what little material it had to razz the usually stoic Varitek. "He's taken a lot of good-natured ribbing for it," said Francona. "I'm not sad that he hit a grand slam. I'm kind of sad that we don't get to get on him anymore because we've had some fun with it. That was a nice swing."