Strike zone worth two outs

Varitek, then Papelbon tossed in ninth inning

By Michael Vega
Globe Staff / June 5, 2011

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They got caught up in the heat of battle, but Jason Varitek and Jonathan Papelbon acknowledged they let their emotions get the best of them during the Red Sox’ 9-8 extra-inning win over Oakland yesterday.

Plate umpire Tony Randazzo ejected Varitek after the A’s rallied for a pair of runs with one out in the ninth to pull within 7-5. Papelbon wasn’t far behind when Randazzo ejected the fiery Sox closer after Conor Jackson’s two-run single tied the score.

Brian Gorman, the umpiring crew chief, declined to discuss why Randazzo tossed Varitek and Papelbon, saying a report first had to be filed with Major League Baseball.

Papelbon, though, could be subject to disciplinary action for making contact with Randazzo when he came charging off the mound as they exchanged words.

“I thought Tony got a little aggressive there,’’ said manager Terry Francona, “and Pap, once he charges him . . . I can’t get out there quick enough. I wish I could.’’

Papelbon said he tried to confer with Jarrod Saltalamacchia, who entered the game when Varitek was tossed, on how to proceed with Randazzo’s strike zone.

“I felt like some of the pitches that I was not getting were strikes, and then I threw one that I felt like was a ball and then he called it a strike,’’ Papelbon said. “I’m more or less just trying to get Salty out there and say, ‘Come talk to me, let’s figure out this zone so I know how to go about this.’ I had no idea what his zone was.

“I guess [Randazzo] may have jumped to the conclusion that I was talking to him. I felt he threw his arms up in the air for no reason. Then everything unfolded the way it did.’’

The frustration with Randazzo’s strike zone led to Varitek’s departure.

Asked to clarify how it came about, Varitek replied, “Obviously arguing balls and strikes. Actually you can’t really do that, and I lost my cool there.’’

Varitek said he retreated to the clubhouse, where he was joined a short time later by Papelbon.

“It’s simple,’’ Varitek said. “I lost my cool on those things that happened in that inning where I thought Pap had made some pitches.’’

Several times during that ninth-inning implosion, Varitek attempted to frame pitches he believed to be strikes for Randazzo.

“I thought Tek was frustrated with his perception that maybe [there were] just some inconsistencies, in his opinion, on the zone,’’ Francona said.

After Cliff Pennington doubled down the line in left to score Daric Barton, who had walked, with Oakland’s fifth run, Varitek turned to Randazzo and erupted.

“I felt like Tek was back there and he was busting his butt to get every pitch that we could,’’ said Papelbon. “He was sticking pitches that I was throwing. Usually if Varitek is sticking pitches — he’s been a catcher for a long time — he’s not going to just hold a pitch and stick it if he doesn’t think it’s a strike. One or two led him to kind of getting fired up.’’

Papelbon tried to intercede and pull Varitek away when the catcher went facemask to facemask with Randazzo. But it was to no avail.

“I went back there and I knew he wouldn’t get physical with Tony,’’ Papelbon said. “So I just tried to grab him and say, ‘Hey, let’s go, we’re still ahead in this game. We got to just keep grinding it out.’ ’’

But there was no pacifying Papelbon when he ran afoul of Randazzo.

After throwing a first-pitch strike to Ryan Sweeney, Papelbon came charging off the mound when Randazzo came out from behind the plate.

“When he threw up his arms and started barking at me, I said, ‘Tony, I’m not even talking to you, I’m talking to my catcher,’ ’’ said Papelbon. “I guess he felt like I may have been coming back at him or I may have been showing him up.

“I had my back turned after talking to Salty because, like I said, I had no idea how to go after the hitter because I didn’t know what the zone was. I probably overreacted a little bit, but it’s hard to say that because I’m in the heat of battle.

“Could I have done things or gone about things different? Yeah, of course. But in the heat of the battle, that’s a lot easier said than done.’’

Michael Vega can be reached at

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