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Source: Jason Varitek to retire on Thursday

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Source: Jason Varitek to retire on Thursday

FORT MYERS, Fla. -- Jason Varitek, whose celebratory hugs with battery-mates Keith Foulke and Jonathan Papelbon are indelibly linked to the only two world championships the Red Sox have won since 2001, will announce his retirement from baseball Thursday after 15 seasons with the club, a source confirmed.

A handful of catchers in recent baseball history -- including Carlton Fisk, Pudge Rodriguez and Bob Boone -- continued to play the game's most demanding position into their 40s. Varitek will fall a few weeks short of that milestone.

Varitek, who turns 40 in April and who served as Red Sox captain from 2005 through last season, had some interest shown to him by other clubs over the winter, but at his age, with declining production in recent seasons, couldn't envision finishing his career with a team other than the Red Sox.

The Sox had conveyed to Varitek over the winter that he could come to camp as a non-roster invitee, but told him there were no guarantees. The club's signing of free agent Kelly Shoppach during the off-season effectively closed the door for Varitek.

Jarrod Salatalamacchia, who took over as the team's No. 1 catcher last season, will continue in that role this season. Ryan Lavarnway, who has tremendous offensive upside but needs additional experience behind the plate at Pawtucket, is also considered to have a bright future and catching prospect Blake Swihart, drafted in the first round last summer, is regarded by some as the top position player in the team's minor league system.

Varitek will retire as the franchise leader in games caught. His 15 seasons with the Red Sox (1997-2001) are eclipsed only by Carl Yastrzemski (23 seasons), Ted Williams (19) and Jim Rice (16) when it comes to those who played their entire major league career with the Red Sox.

He hit .256 with 193 homers and 757 RBI. He won a Gold Glove and was chosen to three All-Star teams. He finishes his career ranked in the all-time Top 10 in several franchise categories, including games played, plate appearances, doubles and extra-base hits.

PROFILE: Jason Varitek, year-by-year

Varitek was obtained at the 1997 trade deadline from Seattle, along with Derek Lowe, for reliever Heathcliff Slocumb, surely one of the most lopsided deals in Red Sox history.

In addition to serving as the team's first captain since Jim Rice, Varitek's fight with the New York Yankees' Alex Rodriguez in the middle of the 2004 season seemed to represent a turning point in Red Sox history, a sign that the Sox were no longer intimidated by the Yankees and their past dominance
of the Sox.

Pitchers continually praised him for his preparation and knowledge of opposing hitters, none more so than Curt Schilling.

He proved remarkably durable in his career. From 1999 until 2009, he played in 100 or more games in every season but one and, over his 15-year career, was placed on the disabled list just twice -- once with a broken elbow and again, in 2010, with a broken foot.

He caught four no-hitters (Hideo Nomo, Derek Lowe, Jon Lester and Clay Buchholz), the most for any catcher in baseball history. He was the only player who played in the Little League World Series, the College World Series, the Olympic Games, the World Basbeall Classic and the World Series.

As recently as 2009, Varitek supplied respectable power numbers (14 homers and 51 RBI in 364 at-bats. But his playing time dipped drastically over the last two seasons as he played just 107 games combined in 2010 and 2011.

The Red Sox traded for Victor Martinez at the trade deadline in 2009 and he became the principal catcher over the final two months of that season and again in 2010.

Varitek's role was further diminished in 2010 when Saltalamacchia, after a brutal first month, seized the No. 1 catcher's role.

The Boston Globe was the first to report news of Varitek's retirement.

How should Red Sox handle Chris Sale's pursuit of Pedro Martinez's strikeout record?

How should Red Sox handle Chris Sale's pursuit of Pedro Martinez's strikeout record?

BALTIMORE — Baseball records are so precise. When to pursue them, when to value them even if minor risk is involved, is not nearly as clear cut.

The Red Sox, Chris Sale and John Farrell have stumbled upon that grey area, and it will continue to play out in the final two weeks of the regular season.

Sale reached a tremendous milestone on Wednesday night, becoming the 14th different pitcher in major league history to reach 300 strikeouts in a single season. No one else has done it in the American League this century. Clayton Kershaw was the last to get there in the National League two years ago.

“It was really fun,” Sale said of having his family on hand. “My wife, both my boys are here, my mother-in-law. Being able to run out and get a big hug from him and my wife and everybody — it was special having them here for something like this. … I’ll spend a little time with them before we head to Cincinnati.”

Now, there’s another mark ahead of Sale: Pedro Martinez’s single-season club record of 313. And the pursuit of that record is going to highlight the discussion of what matters even more.

The tug-of-war between absolute pragmatism and personal achievement was on display Wednesday, when Farrell gave ground to the latter. 

The manager was prepared for the questions after a celebratory 9-0 win over the Orioles. His pitchers threw 26 straight scoreless innings to finish off a three-game sweep of the Orioles, and the Sox had the game well in hand the whole night.

With seven innings and 99 pitches thrown and 299 strikeouts in the books, Sale went back out for the eighth inning.

If you watched it, if you saw Sale drop a 2-2 front-door slider to a hapless Ryan Flaherty for the final strikeout Sale needed and his last pitch of the night, you surely enjoyed it. Records may not be championships, but they have their own appeal in sports that’s undeniable. 

But Sale could have recorded strikeout No. 300 next time out. Surely, he would have. He needed all 111 pitches to do so Wednesday.

In this case, the difference between 299 and 300 wound up being just 12 pitches. 

It’s doubtful those 12 pitches will ruin Sale’s postseason chances, particularly considering he was throwing hard all game, touching 99 mph. 

Nonetheless, the Sox hope to play for another month, and they've been working to get Sale extra rest. So, why risk fatigue, or worse, injury?

“The two overriding factors for me,” Farrell explained, “were the pitch counts and the innings in which he was in control of throughout. Gets an extra day [for five days of rest] this next time through the rotation. All those things were brought into play in the thinking of bringing him back out.

“We know what the final out of tonight represented, him getting the 300 strikeouts. Was aware of that, and you know what, felt like he was in complete command of this game and the ability to go out and give that opportunity, he recorded it.”

If Sale makes his final two starts of the year, he’ll break Martinez's record of 313. At least, Sale should. But he might not make his projected final start, in Game No. 162, so that he’s set up for Game 1 in the Division Series.

(So, if he could do reach 314 Ks in his next start, he’d make this discussion disappear — but 14 Ks in one outing is not easy.)

When should exceptions be made to let someone get to a record? Where do you draw the line? 

Would it be reasonable to get Sale an inning or two against the Astros in Game 162 if he was a few strikeouts away, even though he may face the Astros in the Division Series?

Letting the Astros get extra looks against Sale is a different matter than Sale throwing 12 extra pitches. But neither is really a guarantee of doom. They're small risks, of varying size.

Consider that if Sale is on, he should rough up the Astros no matter what.

What's 12 pitches Wednesday for a guy who leads the majors in average pitches thrown per game? Not enough to keep Farrell from letting Sale have a go at one milestone.

Will the Sox work to put Sale in position for the next?

Records don’t usually fall into such a grey area. Outside of the steroid era, anyway.