Red Sox

McAdam: Varitek retirement marks end of era

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McAdam: Varitek retirement marks end of era

FORT MYERS, Fla. -- It began last September, two days after their season had flamed out in Baltimore. Six months later, the gradual dismantling of the Red Sox continues, unabated.

The manager is gone, and so is the general manager who hired him. The pitcher who very nearly set the franchise record for most wins in franchise history retired two weeks ago, and Thursday, the catcher -- stalwart and team captain -- followed him out the door. Together, they had parts of 32 seasons together in Red Sox uniforms.

In 2004, when the franchise rid itself of the ghosts and ended the title drought, it was said: These are not your father's Red Sox anymore.

Now, just eight years later, they're not even those Red Sox anymore.

Time marches on, and with it, inexorably, go the veteran players.

For the longest time, Tim Wakefield and Jason Varitek were as much a part of the Red Sox as Fenway itself. Now, they each have the dreaded ''ex'' in front of their names: ex-player, ex-captain, ex-Red Sox.

Past tense.

When Varitek arrived, the Red Sox hadn't figured it out yet, but they were getting there. In 1999, just his second full season, they reached the ALCS, only to demonstrate how far they still had to go.

Varitek was part of the learning curve, the long, slow climb to the top of the mountain. As he learned behind the plate, the pitching got better, too. The two were not unrelated.

The arrival of Curt Schilling in 2004, to go with Pedro Martinez and Derek Lowe, created arguably the best rotation in modern Red Sox history and Varitek was the one in charge, a year before he was given the captaincy.

He cajoled, pushed, and shaped them, and when Varitek leaped into Keith Foulke's arms after the final out of Game 4 of the 2004 World Series, it was, in every sense of the word, a leap of faith.

Months earlier, Varitek was responsible for an epochal turning point in franchise history. A mid-summer grudge match with the Yankees had turned ugly and Varitek, no fan of Alex Rodriguez to begin with, had had enough of Rodriguez's angry declarations toward Red Sox pitchers.

Varitek intercepted any bad intentions A-Rod had after being hit by a pitch, and gave the Yankee third baseman a facewash with his catcher's mitt.

To this day, eight years later, that image -- Red Sox catcher puts Yankee star in his place -- is the screen-saver, the bedroom poster, the avatar of Red Sox fans everywhere.

The picture said something. It said the Red Sox would not be pushed around by the Yankees, that they would not bow to their tormentors. Three months later, in St. Louis, it was as if Varitek's line-in-the-sand moment was ultimately validated.

After two World Series in the span of four seasons, success for the Red Sox dried up. The trajectory has plain and unsettling. From the 2007 title, the Sox went to Game 7 of the 2008 ALCS, to getting swept in the 2008 Division Series to two straight playoff DNQs.

In the interim, Wakefield and Varitek were both marginalized as players, their contributions diminished. Wakefield returned to spot starter, Varitek to backup catcher, and this spring, they read the proverbial writing. It was time to go.

Now, the Red Sox are someone else's team. Perhaps they belong to Dustin Pedroia, as vocal as Varitek has been stoic and quietly steady. Perhaps, in the not-too-distant future, they will soon belong to someone who has not yet played a major-league game -- say, Will Middlebrooks, or perhaps someone still in the lower minor leagues.

Whomever becomes the face of the franchise, it's doubtful that his career will last in Boston as long as Varitek's did. It's virtually certain that that career will not span eras the way Varitek's did, with as many defining moments, or transcendent events.

Should the Red Sox win a third championship in this young century, it won't have the same impact as the first one in 2004, or for that matter, the one that followed in 2007, guaranteeing that the first was not a fluke.

You may not recognize what's left of those Red Sox. But you surely will not forget them.

NBC Sports Boston Breakfast Podcast: February 18, 2019: John Henry admits Sox 'blew it' with Lester; Anthony Davis not ruling out Boston

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NBC Sports Boston Breakfast Podcast: February 18, 2019: John Henry admits Sox 'blew it' with Lester; Anthony Davis not ruling out Boston

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1:31 - Red Sox ownership spoke to the media on Monday and John Henry admitted that the organization blew it with Jon Lester back in 2014. Will they make the same mistake with Chris Sale? Trenni Kusnierek and Lou Merloni join us from Fort Myers to discuss.

5:55 - Jackie MacMullan joins Gary Tanguay to talk about Anthony Davis not ruling out playing any NBA team and believe it or not, she’s pretty sure the Brow will end up in Boston.

10:48 - Mike Reiss reports that Rob Gronkowski has been spending a lot of time at Gillette Stadium over the past few weeks, which at least means the tight end is in a good place with the organization. But does it mean he’ll be back next season? Tom Giles, Michael Hurley and Danielle Trotta discuss.

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Talking Points from the Bruins 6-5 win over the Sharks

Talking Points from the Bruins 6-5 win over the Sharks

Gold Star, Black Eye Quote to Note and more in Joe Haggerty's Talking Points from the Bruins' 6-5 OT win over the Sharks in San Jose.

GOLD STAR: Charlie McAvoy is once again playing the hero as it was the Bruins second-year D-man that wound up and stepped into a shot in overtime to give the Bruins the win. McAvoy was also the guy that stepped up and scoring the game-winning goal at the end of the third period last weekend in Los Angeles as well, so he’s got game-winning goals in two straight games. McAvoy finished with the game-winning shot, a team-high seven registered hits and a pair of blocked shots in a big 24:58 of ice time while again playing like a No. 1 defenseman. McAvoy wasn’t a dominant force offensively throughout the game, but instead just stepped up and made the play with everything on the line.

BLACK EYE: Evander Kane finished a minus-2 for the game, had a horrendous change where he weakly skated off the ice leading to the 3-on-2 odd-man rush for the B’s game-winning goal in overtime and also did everything he could to avoid Kevan Miller pretty much all evening. He was a non-factor offensively in a game that featured 10 goals, but it was about the mistakes and the unwillingness to play a tough, gritty game against a Bruins team where he’s had plenty of battles over the years. Kane came up pretty weak all-around in this one and the Sharks ended up missing out on a valuable point as a result of it.

TURNING POINT: The Bruins very nearly lost both points in this game after making a lot of mistakes during regulation play. They also very nearly blew a 3-0 lead that they’d built up to start the game and got nothing for it. But Chris Wagner came down and attacked the net in the final couple minutes of the third period to knock home the rebound of a Brandon Carlo shot and that tied things up in the final moments of the third period. It appeared that it could have been called a high stick based on Wagner going high up in the air to swat the puck out of the net before throwing it past the goal line. But the goal was allowed to stand and ended up giving the B’s two points when they pulled it out in overtime.

HONORABLE MENTION: Jumbo Joe Thornton really turned back the clock and scored a pair of goals against his old Boston Bruins team in the first two periods, and then finished off the amazing performance with a hat trick by scoring in the third period as well. Thornton finished with the three goals and a plus-2 in 14:48 of ice time, had three shots on net and four takeaways while scoring all of his goals while paying the price around the front of the net. Thornton also lost 8-of-12 face-offs in a rough performance in that area, but does anybody really care when Jumbo scored three of San Jose’s five goals in a wild, wild night at the Shark Tank.

BY THE NUMBERS: 4-0-0 – the Bruins are now undefeated and scoring a ton of goals in the four games since David Pastrnak injured his left thumb and exited the B’s lineup.

QUOTE TO NOTE: “Where to start? It has to be a full moon out there tonight, but it’s a good thing that we ended up on the right side of it.” –Bruce Cassidy to NESN about the wild proceedings that ended up in a 6-5 overtime win over the Sharks. 

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