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Tuesday, August 1, 2006
Updated: August 2, 12:35 PM ET
Varitek to have surgery on torn knee cartilage

Associated Press

BOSTON -- Red Sox catcher Jason Varitek will have surgery for torn cartilage in his left knee, leaving Boston without one of its important players in the postseason chase.

Elias Says ...
Jason Varitek
Jason Varitek has caught 924 games since becoming the Red Sox's primary catcher in 1999, fourth-most in the major leagues over that span, behind Brad Ausmus (1,027), Jason Kendall (1,027) and Jorge Posada (1,012).

With Varitek on the shelf, Doug Mirabelli should become the Sox's everyday catcher. Mirabelli has never caught more than six consecutive team games in his major league career.

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Manager Terry Francona said he hoped the surgery would be Thursday but he gave no information on when Varitek might return.

"He was examined [Tuesday] morning and they found, I guess, a partial tear in the meniscus," Francona said after Boston's 6-3 loss to the Cleveland Indians on Tuesday night. "We'll know, certainly, a lot more on the timetable after they go in and get him cleaned up."

Tuesday's loss combined with New York's 5-1 win over Toronto pushed the Red Sox out of sole possession of first place for the first time since June 18. The Yankees (62-41) lead the Red Sox (63-42) by percentage points.

On Monday, starting right fielder Trot Nixon went on the disabled list after straining his right biceps a day earlier. Starting pitchers Tim Wakefield and Matt Clement are already on the disabled list and David Wells came off it on Monday, when he started and allowed eight runs in 4 2/3 innings.

The Red Sox have been healthier than the Yankees, who have lost outfielders Hideki Matsui and Gary Sheffield for most of the season and have second baseman Robinson Cano on the disabled list.

Francona said Varitek's knee "has been bothering him for a while."

He hurt it rounding second base in the second inning of Monday night's 9-8 win over Cleveland. He later scored on Wily Mo Pena's triple and played the field in the top of the third before Doug Mirabelli pinch hit for him in the bottom of the inning.

Varitek, who played in 85 of Boston's first 104 games, went on the disabled list Tuesday.

Mirabelli, who is hitting .181, started Tuesday and Ken Huckaby was called up from Triple-A Pawtucket to take Varitek's roster spot. Huckaby was hitting .207 with two homers and 16 RBIs in 68 games with Pawtucket.

"I'm fully prepared to play every day," Mirabelli said, although he hasn't been told how much he will be used.

"It's tough on a team, no doubt about it," he said. "We've got two big guns out right now in Trot and Jason as far as everyday guys, let alone with our starting rotation."

Varitek is considered an outstanding handler of pitchers but struggled at the plate. He is batting .243 with 11 homers and 50 RBI. He began the season with a .272 career average with 119 homers in eight seasons, all with Boston.

"His presence is huge here for me," Mirabelli said, "just the support that he can give me and some leadership that maybe I don't see that he's been in there every day. He's been in the grind and he knows these [opposing] teams so I'm going to [rely] on him a lot."

Mirabelli entered the season with a .241 career batting average and spent the last five seasons with Boston, primarily as knuckleballer Wakefield's personal catcher. He was traded in the offseason to San Diego for second baseman Mark Loretta.

But when his replacement as Varitek's backup, Josh Bard, had trouble handling the knuckleball, the Red Sox traded for Mirabelli on May 1, sending Bard and reliever Cla Meredith to the Padres.

"I think everybody in this clubhouse believes that Dougie can step right in and get the job done," outfielder Gabe Kapler said.

But Varitek is better.

"He's certainly important. I mean that's why they put that 'C' on his jersey," Francona said of the team captain. "I think that we're good enough where we'll overcome thing like this."

The Red Sox recalled right-hander Jason Johnson from Pawtucket and optioned left-hander Javier Lopez there. Johnson (3-11) started and lost Tuesday night.

Boston also designated first baseman Hee-Seop Choi, who was at Pawtucket, for assignment.