Salty's cooking a recipe for success

BOSTON -- It wasn't good night for Red Sox starter Jon Lester, but his battery mate, Jarrod Saltalamacchia, is in the midst of a special streak right now.

With two outs and the Red Sox trailing 6-4 in the bottom of the ninth inning, Saltalamacchia hit an opposite-field, two-run homer to tie the game and send it into extra innings. Despite the loss for Boston, he finished the night 3-for-4 and is now hitting .349 (22-for-63) with five doubles, seven homers and 17 RBIs in his last 20 games.

In fact, he recently provided his first career walk-off home run to help the Sox to a 3-2 win over the Tampa Bay Rays on May 26 at Fenway.

Bobby Valentine admitted that Saltalamacchia is playing "great."

"He's gaining confidence in all aspects of his life and his game," the manager said. "He walks into the clubhouse and he exudes confidence. When he goes to the mound, the pitchers like what he has to say. I think the umpires are respecting him and he's a confident player right now."

It's been a relatively smooth transition for him since he officially took over the starting catcher's role from former Sox captain Jason Varitek in 2011. After Varitek retired during spring training, Saltalamacchia has continued to build his reputation as a solid player both at and behind the plate, and in the clubhouse too, just as Varitek did during his career.

Lester -- who usually praises his teammates, especially his catcher, no matter if the team wins or loses -- had nothing but positive things to say about Saltalamacchia.

"I don't think it's anything unexpected," Lester said of Salty's emergence. "He came to us with a big name -- no pun intended. He had a big reputation of who he was as a catcher and an offensive player. Now he's just feeling comfortable. He knows his role. As much as Tek helps, having him not here helps as well. You don't have that presence breathing down your neck. Obviously, it's nice to have Tek here, but for Salty to get out from underneath that shadow and now it's his pitching staff, he's done a great job."

Saltalamacchia echoed Lester's take, but added he still misses the captain.

"We're different people and I was completely humbled and excited when Tek was here with me," Saltalamacchia said. "He was someone I could lean on and someone I could really talk to. I still talk to him, but having him here day in and day out, going through the grind, was awesome.

"Now him not being here I think pitchers are starting to see me do a little more that they didn't see last year because they had Tek to lean on. But nothing's changed, I'm still the same guy. It's still the same routines. It my job to help the pitchers out anyway I can. I don't have all the answers, but if they need some help I'm going to give them an honest answer and help them through it."

It's clear that all the growing pains Saltalamacchia dealt with earlier in his career while playing for the Atlanta Braves and Texas Rangers are a thing of the past. There's no doubt he's playing with confidence. There's no doubt he's prepared and he's earned everyone's respect in the clubhouse, similar to how Varitek was treated.

"Anytime you're put in the same category as a guy like Tek it makes you feel good," Saltalamacchia said. "What he accomplished in his career and what he accomplished in the short time I knew him, especially with me and the one thing he did is he always gave me a chance and not too many guys did that. I never had a backup catcher that was that way. It was always a competition, so to step in for a guy who was the captain, and it was his team and for him to say, 'Hey, this is your team' is something I'll always remember."

On a night the Red Sox would like to forget after a tough loss, at least Saltalamacchia continues to lead the way.