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Pain-free Mueller eager to return

He's on road back after knee surgery

SAN FRANCISCO -- Few players want to be seen as making excuses, but Bill Mueller is in a league of his own.

Mueller, who resumed baseball activities yesterday on the road back from arthroscopic knee surgery May 28, was pressed to divulge how long he had played through the pain in his right knee while he patched together a .262 average with five homers and 21 RBIs over his first 36 games. Mueller hit .326 last year to win the American League batting crown.

"It's double-secret probation on that kind of stuff," the third baseman said. "I don't make excuses for anything."

Only under repeated questioning would Mueller at least acknowledge the obvious: "It was there for a while, let's just put it that way."

You think? He finally opted for surgery after coping with swelling in the knee for 16 straight days, many of which he played.

"When something's floating around in there, you know you have some fraying and you've got to take care of it," Mueller said. He joked that his surgeon, David Zeman, carefully "took out a nice piece of crab meat and some spinach dip and painted a nice picture in there."

"Everything's good, real good," Mueller said.

Which is real good for the Sox. Though Kevin Youkilis has filled in well, batting .269 with only two errors in 26 games, Mueller proved himself last year as a vital part of the offense.

"He looks real excited to be back," manager Terry Francona said, "and I know we're excited to have him."

Mueller said his injury paled in comparison to the devastating blow he suffered to his left knee in 2001 while chasing a foul ball for the Cubs.

He needed more than a year to fully recover from that, but he said he should be fully healed and ready to go soon for the Sox. He is expected to need a couple of weeks before he is activated.

Thanks to the surgery, Mueller said, he hopes to "be healthy for the rest of the year, for the rest of my career."

It beats sitting at his in-laws' house in Arizona with a bat in his hand watching the Sox on television, as he did much of the last month.

Ace in the hole

The first-inning woes continued for Pedro Martinez. He allowed a leadoff homer to Ray Durham and three more runs on two singles and a pair of doubles. Martinez has allowed opponents to bat .349 (22 for 63) with five homers and 13 RBIs in the first inning . . . After starting six straight games and eight of nine since he returned from the disabled list, Nomar Garciaparra yielded to Pokey Reese at shortstop. "I don't think we even thought he was going to do that," Francona said of Garciaparra playing so often so soon after he returned. "With the quick turnaround [a day game after a night game], it was just common sense to give him a little blow." . . . Johnny Damon also got a breather, with Gabe Kapler starting in center field and Mark Bellhorn replacing Damon at the top of the order. Damon struck out pinch hitting for Martinez in the seventh . . . Trot Nixon sat out, too, with Kevin Millar playing right field, until his game-tying pinch hit in the eighth inning . . . First base coach Lynn Jones, who suffered a severe injury to his right eye in a household accident nearly seven weeks ago, is scheduled to undergo a third surgery Thursday and expressed hope he could return to work after the All-Star break. The vision in the eye, which doctors initially feared could not be saved, has improved to 20/100 and could reach 20/50, "which is a miracle," Francona said. The manager praised interim first base coach Bill Haselman for his seamless transition from his playing career. The public address announcer mistakenly introduced Haselman as Bob, prompting some Sox to rib him from the dugout . . . Marquis Grissom went 1 for 2 against Martinez to improve to .591 (13 for 22) against him in his career . . . Giants lefthander Noah Lowry allowed the Sox only one run over 5 2/3 innings before he was optioned back to Triple A Fresno. The Giants recalled righthander David Aardsma for today's game.

Mendoza's line

Ramiro Mendoza is scheduled to move up from Single A Sarasota and make a rehab appearance out of the bullpen today for Triple A Pawtucket. Mendoza, who has been sidelined since April 9 with right shoulder tendinitis, is tentatively scheduled to pitch again Thursday for the PawSox . . . The Sox said Curt Schilling and Byung Hyun Kim each threw on the side yesterday at Pawtucket. Schilling is scheduled to face the Twins Tuesday at Fenway. Kim remains about a week away from returning to the mound for Pawtucket . . . Francona said he believes Tim Wakefield pitched better in Friday's 14-9 victory over the Giants than the numbers indicated. Wakefield allowed seven runs (five earned) as his ERA over his last five outings rose to 8.73. Marquis Grissom did the most damage with a pair of homers, accounting for four of the runs. "I thought his knuckleball was the best I've seen in a while," Francona said. Wakefield will try for his first win since May 23 when he faces the Twins Thursday at Fenway . . . Many of the Sox were unaware they set a record for SBC Park when they homered five times Friday night or that they tied the park record for runs by an opponent (14). "I'm just glad it was enough," Francona said . . . Kansas City general manager Allard Baird, shopping for talent to a acquire in exchange for Carlos Beltran, scouted the game with two top aides. Notable among the players they checked out was Sox third baseman Kevin Youkilis, who went 0 for 4 with a walk. He also struck out looking at a 3-2 pitch leading off the ninth.

Ramiro Mendoza is scheduled to move up from Single A Sarasota and make a rehab appearance out of the bullpen today for Triple A Pawtucket. Mendoza, who has been sidelined since April 9 with right shoulder tendinitis, is tentatively scheduled to pitch again Thursday for the PawSox . . . The Sox said Curt Schilling and Byung Hyun Kim each threw on the side yesterday at Pawtucket. Schilling is scheduled to face the Twins Tuesday at Fenway. Kim remains about a week away from returning to the mound for Pawtucket . . . Francona said he believes Tim Wakefield pitched better in Friday's 14-9 victory over the Giants than the numbers indicated. Wakefield allowed seven runs (five earned) as his ERA over his last five outings rose to 8.73. Marquis Grissom did the most damage with a pair of homers, accounting for four of the runs. "I thought his knuckleball was the best I've seen in a while," Francona said. Wakefield will try for his first win since May 23 when he faces the Twins Thursday at Fenway . . . Many of the Sox were unaware they set a record for SBC Park when they homered five times Friday night or that they tied the park record for runs by an opponent (14). "I'm just glad it was enough," Francona said . . . Kansas City general manager Allard Baird, shopping for talent to a acquire in exchange for Carlos Beltran, scouted the game with two top aides. Notable among the players they checked out was Sox third baseman Kevin Youkilis, who went 0 for 4 with a walk. He also struck out looking at a 3-2 pitch leading off the ninth. Ramiro Mendoza is scheduled to move up from Single A Sarasota and make a rehab appearance out of the bullpen today for Triple A Pawtucket. Mendoza, who has been sidelined since April 9 with right shoulder tendinitis, is tentatively scheduled to pitch again Thursday for the PawSox . . . The Sox said Curt Schilling and Byung Hyun Kim each threw on the side yesterday at Pawtucket. Schilling is scheduled to face the Twins Tuesday at Fenway. Kim remains about a week away from returning to the mound for Pawtucket . . . Francona said he believes Tim Wakefield pitched better in Friday's 14-9 victory over the Giants than the numbers indicated. Wakefield allowed seven runs (five earned) as his ERA over his last five outings rose to 8.73. Marquis Grissom did the most damage with a pair of homers, accounting for four of the runs. "I thought his knuckleball was the best I've seen in a while," Francona said. Wakefield will try for his first win since May 23 when he faces the Twins Thursday at Fenway . . . Many of the Sox were unaware they set a record for SBC Park when they homered five times Friday night or that they tied the park record for runs by an opponent (14). "I'm just glad it was enough," Francona said . . . Kansas City general manager Allard Baird, shopping for talent to a acquire in exchange for Carlos Beltran, scouted the game with two top aides. Notable among the players they checked out was Sox third baseman Kevin Youkilis, who went 0 for 4 with a walk. He also struck out looking at a 3-2 pitch leading off the ninth.

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