Notes: Varitek doing it all
Red Sox's captain invaluable leader on and off the field
DENVER -- The accolades have come pouring in for a team that's on a roll and on the cusp of a second World Series championship in four seasons.
Dustin Pedroia and Jacoby Ellsbury have been the rookies with nerves of steel. Josh Beckett has been an October ace for the ages.
Fireballing closer Jonathan Papelbon never seems to give up a hit, let alone a run. David Ortiz continues to do his Big Papi thing, and Manny Ramirez is just Manny, a hitting machine.
In the background is the catcher and leader who does all the dirty work. Jason Varitek doesn't like to get noticed. What he likes to do is win. Varitek puts in taxing hours to help make that possible.
"A good catcher who prioritizes the pitching staff over his own offensive performance is a huge asset to the organization," said Red Sox general manager Theo Epstein. "He's like the command center of our operation in terms of run prevention. He takes all the information and is ultimately the one who puts down the right fingers. It's a great asset."
Varitek's work stretches from the meeting rooms to the video machines to the clubhouse to the dugout. And, yeah, he also saves some energy to be a switch-hitting threat at the plate.
"Having Jason is invaluable in the preparation process, the advance scouting process, in the flow of the game, helping guys get through potential landmines out there that exist against virtually every opponent we face," said Epstein. "It's a great feeling having 'Tek literally in those advance scouting meetings and seeing the give and take that he has with our advance scouts and coaching staff and front office. It's a reassuring feeling. He has a great baseball mind. It's always on."
If there's a word to describe what Varitek is to the Red Sox, "rock" would probably be the one.
"I think you always want your catcher to be indispensable until you find out the hard way," said Red Sox manager Terry Francona, referring to when Varitek had to undergo left knee surgery in August 2006. "He has a lot of responsibility. Sometimes you see him after games with those ice packs. I think he ought to maybe put one on his head, too, because you can tell he's worn out."
Ellsbury's progression: Though Ellsbury burst onto the scene this postseason, his evolution has been the product of much hard work from both himself and the organization.
"First of all, his ability and his aptitude, I think, are off the charts," said Epstein. "He deserves all the credit."
The Red Sox had a vision when they made Ellsbury a first-round Draft selection in 2005, and it is all coming into focus.
"Our player development and our scouts try to identify players who can succeed in Boston," said Ellsbury. "And our player development department tries not only to develop Major League players, but winning Major League players who can thrive in Boston."
Last January was another key period for Ellsbury when he attended the team's rookie development program.
"He was hearing from our trainers and our coaching staff and our manager and me and Jason Varitek and Curt Schilling about the expectations of playing winning baseball in Boston and trying to hammer those lessons home," Epstein said. "He's obviously taken those right to the field and then some. To be the organization we want to be, we have to develop players who can adjust quickly and thrive in Boston, otherwise we're not going to be as effective."
Okajima might sit Game 4: Francona seemed skeptical before the game that invaluable lefty setup man Hideki Okajima would be available for Game 4.
After going 2 1/3 innings in Game 2, Okajima fired 29 pitches and pitched an inning Saturday night.
"He's the one guy that we do need to keep an eye on," said Francona.
Ortiz holds up OK: According to Francona, Ortiz's ailing right knee held up reasonably well in Game 3, when the big slugger played five innings at first base. However, the knee did get a little sore as the game progressed, which was a factor in his removal from the game.
Ortiz was back in there for Game 4. He's expected to have surgery shortly after the World Series ends.
Ian Browne is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.