Varitek's Captain Clutch

BOB ELLIOTT, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 9:43 AM ET

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. -- He is banged up, well past his expiry date.

He has been swinging as if the season was a couple of weeks -- maybe months -- too long.

Yet, he wears a 'C' over his heart for a reason.

The letter signifies captain, but it could just as well stand for clutch.

Jason Varitek hit a solo homer on a 2-0 pitch off James Shields with two out in the sixth to give the Boston Red Sox a lead in the sixth as they went on to 4-2 win in Game 6 over the Tampa Bay Rays in the best-of-seven American League Championship Series.

"I couldn't think of anything from our side that would be more appropriate," Boston manager Terry Francona said. "Our dugout went crazy. It was a huge run. It meant a lot to everyone as to who hit it for how hard he has worked."

So, they'll come back to do it all over again tonight, Boston's Jon Lester against Matt Garza. The Rays scouting department left the park looking to sign Aaron Boone for 11th inning, pinch-hitting duties.

Varitek hit .220 in 2008, including .183 in September, and was hitless in 15 ALCS at-bats.

"In 2003, I was part of the all-star coaching staff," Rays manager Joe Maddon said. "I went up and told him how much I appreciate the job he does. He wears it on his face."

Seven outs from a World Series berth with a 7-0 lead in Game 5, it comes down to one winner-take-all game for the Rays. It is slip, slip, sliding away, going downhill at the same rate of John McCain. So close. Now so uncertain. Will the Tampa Bay watch Wednesday's World Series opener against the Philadelphia Phillies on TV or host it?

Josh Beckett took an 11.57 post-season ERA into the game and allowed two solo homers for the win.

EARNED RESPECT

"(Jason) wears a C for a lot of reasons, none more important than the respect he has in that clubhouse," Beckett said. "We're always pulling for him."

Not everyone saw the first inning last night. In fact, only the sold-out crowd of 40,947 at Tropicana Field witnessed the Rays go in front 1-0. On this night, the TBS network stood for Taking Baseball into the Shadows as the network missed the first six hitters.

Two circuit breakers in Atlanta transmission operations tripped, causing the master router and its backup to shut down. It was not Randy in Sunnyvale trailer park who plugged in a hair dryer, as Mr. Lahey hooked up an electric shaver and a toaster at the same time.

Fans across North America saw a little of Dick Clark's blooper show and a lot of the Steve Harvey Show. The international feed, picked up by Sportsnet, came back live quicker.

Viewers missed B.J. Upton hit a 2-2 pitch off the C-ring catwalk, 125 feet above the field, for a first-inning homer.

Jason Bartlett went from goat to hero in a couple of pitches. He missed a hit-and-run sign as Dioner Navarro was easily thrown out for the second out of the fifth. Bartlett then hit a 2-2 hanging curve for his first homer of the post-season. In five years, Bartlett hit 11 regular-season homers in 1,681 plate appearances.

An inning later he was a goat. Shields allowed a single to Coco Crisp and was hooked. Lefty J.P. Howell took over and got a routine inning-ending grounder to Bartlett, who threw wide of first.

Plate ump Derryl Cousins, whom the Rays had problems with earlier this season, was hit on the chest when Varitek foul a ball back in the second. An inning later, he left with a bruised collar bone.

The Cousins plate assignment was a reason Maddon went with lefty Scott Kazmir in Game 5. Earlier this season Kazmir called the ump "shoe box Cousins," a commentary on the size of his strike zone, not his footwear. Tim McClelland took over for Cousins after a 15-minute delay.


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