RED SOX NOTEBOOK
Boras holds the line on Varitek and Lowe
ANAHEIM, Calif. -- As much as the Red Sox want to prevent Jason Varitek from playing elsewhere next year, they had their last best chance this season to work out a deal with him in spring training. They have not negotiated with Varitek, a potential free agent, since then and will not have their next opportunity to reach an agreement until their exclusive window to hammer out a deal begins when the World Series ends.
Varitek's agent, Scott Boras, who said midway through the season he would not negotiate for either Varitek or Derek Lowe until the season ends, said he has stood by his position. Boras, who attended Game 1 of the Division Series, believes the potential distraction of contract talks during the season can affect players.
The Sox are expected to make strong pushes to re-sign Varitek and their other top potential free agent, Pedro Martinez, during their 15 days of exclusive negotiating rights after the World Series. Once the 15 days end, the players can begin talking to other teams. Boras said he has maintained a cordial relationship with Sox general manager Theo Epstein and indicated he looked forward to trying to strike a deal for Varitek.
While Varitek is likely to seek more than the Sox care to pay (as much as $10 million a year over three or four years), he is considered one of the players who would be the most difficult, if not impossible, to replace, because of his skills and leadership qualities.
Boras declined to discuss Lowe's situation, although it appears all but certain the sinkerballer will pitch elsewhere next year. The Sox sent Lowe to the bullpen for the Division Series after he went 0-1 with a 13.94 ERA over his last four starts of the season. When Lowe last faced Anaheim Sept. 2, he held them to three runs over 7 1/3 innings in a 4-3 victory at Fenway Park.
Lowe is completing a five-year, $14 million deal that could be considered a bargain since he went 70-55 with 85 saves for the Sox in 384 appearances, the third-most in franchise history. But his effectiveness has declined since his spectacular season in 2002, and he is expected to seek far more than the Sox want to pay.
With Lowe assigned full time to the pen, the Sox finally concluded they could carry 10 pitchers in the Division Series, clearing a spot for a 15th position player, Kevin Youkilis. Manager Terry Francona had said he expected to go with 10 pitchers, but the team wound up waiting until the day of the opener to close the door to going with an 11th. Had the Sox carried an additional pitcher, it would have been Scott Williamson.
"Willie was kind of a wild card," Francona said. "We explained to him he could be used a lot and we asked him basically what he thought. Although he was more than willing to try to do it, I think he understood this is a team thing and he wasn't sure he could answer the bell. He was very honest, which we really respected and appreciated."
Williamson, who made a surprise return in early September after he appeared destined for elbow surgery, will remain with the team. He has a chance to join the active roster if the Sox advance.
The Sox also opted for Curtis Leskanic over Ramiro Mendoza. Francona said moving Lowe to the bullpen gave the Sox the long reliever they might need. "We just thought having the position player may come in handy," Francona said, referring to Youkilis. "It will allow us to use Dave Roberts in a pinch-running situation a little bit more aggressively and gives us a couple of more options."
The Sox tapped Youkilis over David McCarty because Youkilis can back up Bill Mueller at third base while Doug Mientkiewicz backs up Kevin Millar at first. Francona reiterated that Millar is the team's regular first baseman, while Mientkiewicz generally is a defensive replacement even though the Sox envisioned a larger role for him when they acquired him.
Mientkiewicz was 6 for 15 in his career vs. Anaheim starter Jarrod Washburn, but Millar, who was 3 for 10 against Washburn, delivered a two-run homer to help break the game open in the seven-run fourth.
Shot in arm
Manny Ramirez's three-run shot in the fourth inning was his 17th postseason homer. He helped the Sox score their most runs (seven) in an inning in the postseason in franchise history. Their previous high was six, which they scored three times: the seventh inning of Game 3 of the '99 Division Series, the seventh inning of Game 1 of the '75 World Series, and the sixth inning of Game 5 of the 1903 World Series . . . Curt Schilling, who improved to 6-1 in the postseason, has the third-best ERA (1.74) in playoff history. He beat the Angels for the third time this season and improved to 4-0 against them in his career. His error in the seventh inning was his first this year . . . The Sox had lost seven of their last nine postseason openers, including the opener of last year's Division Series against the A's. But they have won their last four games in the Division Series (they swept the final three last year vs. the A's) . . . Four Sox players appeared on their first postseason roster: Youkilis, Mark Bellhorn, Orlando Cabrera, and Pokey Reese . . . Francona finished the regular season with the best record (98-64) for a first-year Sox manager since the 1912 team went 105-47 under Jake Stahl and won the World Series. Francona joined Stahl, Ed Barrow (1918), Dick Williams ('67), Joe Morgan ('88), and Kevin Kennedy ('95) as the only Sox skippers to lead the team to the postseason in their first years at the helm.
© Copyright 2004 Globe Newspaper Company.