Picard: An example of why Varitek was a man of respect


Picard: An example of why Varitek was a man of respect

There's a time and a place for everything. And Jason Varitek has decided the time and place for his retirement will be Thursday in Fort Myers.

Every Red Sox fan knows the captain's story.

I just thought I'd share one more.

It was a Tuesday night at Fenway Park in April 2010, one of the first Red Sox games I ever covered. It was the night Darnell McDonald -- on the same day he was called up from the minors -- won it with a walkoff single in the bottom of the ninth, after he'd hit a pinch-hit, two-run homer that tied the score in the bottom of the eighth. It was also the night the Red Sox battery of Tim Wakefield and Victor Martinez allowed nine stolen bases in five innings, extending the team's streak of consecutive steals allowed to 29.

McDonald was the story of the night, obviously. But my assignment was the stolen bases.

Varitek -- who replaced Martinez in the top of the eighth, after Martinez was pinch-run for in the bottom of the seventh -- sat in his chair, facing his locker, following the game. The postgame scrum was elsewhere, and he was alone.

The way I looked at it, he was the captain. If there was something going so badly wrong with an aspect of the team's performance that his position was involved in, he would have the answer.

So I looked at my colleague, Sean McAdam, and asked him if it was cool to approach Varitek.

I was new to the Red Sox clubhouse. But I'd been there often enough to know that it certainly wasn't the Bruins dressing room. Anyone and everyone in a hockey dressing room is approachable.

Sean looked at Varitek, looked back at me, and gave the okay.

I was only 10 feet away. But the walk felt like an entire lap around Castle Island.

By the time I got there, I was already regretting the decision. But there was no retreating at that point.

There was so much I could have done. I could have introduced myself. I could have told him I was a lifelong standing-room, season-ticket holder at Fenway Park. I could have told him I'll always remember exactly where I was when he stiff-armed Alex Rodriguez in 2004. All to start the conversation on a more pleasant note.

Instead, I hit the record button on my tape recorder and asked him about the nine stolen bases.

To be honest, I don't remember exactly what he responded with. I just know it wasn't good enough to fill my only story of the night.

So I asked him again, wording the question differently.

He turned left and slightly upward, making eye contact with me for the first time. He gave the same type of generic response. Only this time, his tone was far more aggressive, and the look on his face was far less pleasant. He punctuated his response with "Period. End of question." I thanked him for his time and retreated.

Just several days earlier, Terry Francona had laughed in my face and called me out for the way I'd asked what, otherwise, would have been a fair question, completely and unnecessarily embarrassing me. With Francona, I swallowed my pride, plopped myself in the front row the very next night, and asked him second question of the press conference. I got right back on the horse.

But now it had happened again. It bothered me.

Maybe Varitek saw it in my face. Or maybe he simply felt bad about the way he responded. In any case, 20 minutes later -- as I stood on the other side of the Red Sox clubhouse -- I felt a hand come down on my shoulder.

There was Varitek -- arm wrapped heavily with ice -- apologizing for the way he reacted to my questions.

Like his answer to those questions, I don't remember today exactly what he said. I just know he went out of his way to walk over to the other side of the clubhouse and offered a sincere apology.

There was no camera on him. There were no lights or microphones in his face. Nobody was going to put this in their postgame notebook.

Despite his frustration with my negative questions, Varitek knew I was just doing my job. And whether he agreed with the line of questioning or not, he probably could tell by the look on my face that he'd left me somewhat rattled.

It was the first and only time a professional athlete has gone out of his way to offer an apology for something that -- let's face it -- he never really had to apologize for.

I would have got over it. And so would he.

But Varitek was captain of the Red Sox for a reason. On that April night in 2010, I got a glimpse of that reason.

STANLEY CUP FINALS: Guentzel's goal lifts Penguins by Predators 5-3 in Game 1


STANLEY CUP FINALS: Guentzel's goal lifts Penguins by Predators 5-3 in Game 1

PITTSBURGH - Pittsburgh rookie Jake Guentzel beat Nashville's Pekka Rinne with 3:17 left in regulation to put the Penguins ahead to stay in a 5-3 victory in Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final on Monday night.

Guentzel snapped an eight-game goalless drought to help the defending champions escape after blowing a three-goal lead.

Nick Bonino scored twice for the Penguins. Conor Sheary scored his first of the playoffs and Evgeni Malkin scored his eighth. The Penguins won despite putting just 12 shots on goal. Murray finished with 23 saves for the Penguins, who used the first coach's challenge in finals history to wipe out an early Nashville goal and held on despite going an astonishing 37:09 at one point without a shot.

Game 2 is Wednesday night in Pittsburgh.

Ryan Ellis, Colton Sissons and Frederick Gaudreau scored for the Predators. Rinne stopped just seven shots.

The Penguins had all of three days to get ready for the final following a draining slog through the Eastern Conference that included a pair of Game 7 victories, the second a double-overtime thriller against Ottawa last Thursday.

Pittsburgh downplayed the notion it was fatigued, figuring adrenaline and a shot at making history would make up for any lack of jump while playing their 108th game in the last calendar year.

Maybe, but the Penguins looked a step behind at the outset. The Predators, who crashed the NHL's biggest stage for the first time behind Rinne and a group of talented defenseman, were hardly intimidated by the stakes, the crowd or the defending champions.

All the guys from the place dubbed "Smashville" have to show for it is their first deficit of the playoffs on a night a fan threw a catfish onto the ice to try and give the Predators a taste of home.

The Penguins, who led the league in scoring, stressed before Game 1 that the best way to keep the Predators at bay was by taking the puck and spending copious amounts of time around Rinne. It didn't happen, mostly because Nashville's forecheck pinned the Penguins in their own end. Clearing attempts were knocked down or outright swiped, tilting the ice heavily in front of Murray.

Yet Pittsburgh managed to build a quick 3-0 lead anyway thanks to a fortunate bounce and some quick thinking by Penguins video coordinator Andy Saucier. Part of his job title is to alert coach Mike Sullivan when to challenge a call. The moment came 12:47 into the first when P.K. Subban sent a slap shot by Murray that appeared to give the Predators the lead.

Sullivan used his coach's challenge, arguing Nashville forward Filip Forsberg was offside. A lengthy review indicated Forsberg's right skate was in the air as he brought the puck into a zone, a no-no.

It temporarily deflated Nashville and gave the Penguins all the wiggle room they needed to take charge.

Malkin scored on a 5-on-3 15:32 into the first, Sheary made it 2-0 just 65 seconds later and when Nick Bonino's innocent centering pass smacked off Nashville defenseman Mattias Ekholm's left knee and by Rinne just 17 seconds before the end of the period, Pittsburgh was in full command.

It looked like a repeat of Game 5 of the Eastern Conference finals against Ottawa, when the Penguins poured in four goals in the first period of a 7-0 rout.

Nashville, unlike the Senators, didn't bail. Instead they rallied.

Ellis scored the first goal by a Predator in a Stanley Cup Final 8:21 into the second. Though Nashville didn't get another one by Murray, they also kept Rinne downright bored at the other end. Pittsburgh didn't manage a shot on net in the second period, the first time it's happened in a playoff game in franchise history.

Nashville kept coming. Sissons beat Murray 10:06 into the third and Gaudreau tied it just after a fruitless Pittsburgh power play.

No matter. The Penguins have become chameleons under Sullivan. They can win with both firepower and precision.

Guentzel slipped one by Rinne with 3:17 to go in regulation and Bonino added an empty netter to give Pittsburgh early control of the series.

Posey stays out of the fray during Strickland-Harper brawl


Posey stays out of the fray during Strickland-Harper brawl

SAN FRANCISCO  — As an irate Bryce Harper charged toward the mound, Buster Posey just stood and watched from behind home plate.

And when the Washington Nationals and San Francisco Giants cleared their benches Monday and punches flew both ways, the All-Star catcher did his best to remain just outside the fray.

Not where some expected to find the Giants team leader with his pitcher, Hunter Strickland, exchanging head shots with Harper.

“Posey did NOTHING to stop Harper from getting to his pitcher,” former major league pitcher Dontrelle Willis wrote on Twitter. “I’ve never seen that before in my life.”

Posey declined to enter the fracas, instead remaining around its edges and watching as the players scuffled in “a pretty good pile,” as Giants manager Bruce Bochy called it.

Posey dealt with a concussion in April after being struck in the head by a pitch, but did not say he held back because of concerns related to that. He did say he was wary about the risk of injury.

“There were some big guys tumbling around out there,” Posey said. “You see Mike Morse and Jeff Samardzija are about as big as they come and he was getting knocked around like a pinball. So it was a little dangerous to get in there.”

Still, social media was abuzz at the sight of Posey not sticking up for his teammate.

“Strickland must have told @BusterPosey he was hitting him and let him come cause he didn’t even give a soft jog,” Willis wrote.

“Says all you need to know that Buster Posey didn’t bother to hold back Harper,” tweeted Fox broadcaster Kevin Burkhardt . “Let him go get his pitcher.”

Also absent from the fight: hard-nosed Giants ace Madison Bumgarner. As his teammates flew over the dugout railing, Bumgarner stayed put, perhaps because the left-hander is still recovering after injuring his pitching shoulder and ribs in a dirt biking accident in April.