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The old hidden-ball trick

Club can't locate symbol of Series

The ball. Where's the darned ball?

Here we go again.

We last saw the official championship souvenir in Jason Varitek's back pocket after the final out when the Red Sox wrapped up the World Series Sunday in Game 4 at Denver.

"I gave it to Pap [Jonathan Papelbon]," Varitek said yesterday. "It's out of my hands."

Efforts to reach Papelbon - who appeared last night on "The Late Show with David Letterman" - were unsuccessful, but his agent, Sam Levinson, told the Associated Press that the closer has no idea where the ball is.

Sox vice president Charles Steinberg said he knew only what he'd read: that Varitek put the ball in his pocket.

"I guess we'll have another story line as we head into November," Steinberg said. "I don't know where the ball is. I haven't heard anything about it."

Another Sox employee said, "I thought Tek had it. I thought he was going to give it to the team. Why would he give it to Pap?"

After the Red Sox swept the Cardinals in the 2004 World Series at St. Louis, first baseman Doug Mientkiewicz secured the final out of Game 4 from Keith Foulke and didn't hand it over until much public scrutiny and a sparring match with Sox CEO Larry Lucchino. Mientkiewicz contended it was his intention to present the ball to the Hall of Fame. He eventually did.

This year the game ball was not among the items listed to be collected for the Hall to display in Cooperstown.

Did Papelbon lose the ball while performing his "Riverdance"?

Looks like Ballgate lives.

Vote from Varitek

The Sox will conduct contract discussions with Mike Lowell and Curt Schilling next week while Theo Epstein is in Orlando, Fla., for the general managers' meetings. Varitek is all for keeping both.

"It went from a World Series parade to a Mike Lowell parade," said Varitek as he packed his belongings in the Sox clubhouse. "It really did, but in a fun way. Mike has been such a special teammate to play with."

Asked whether he felt Alex Rodriguez would be a good fit if Lowell isn't re-signed, Varitek paused for a moment. "You guys are putting me in a tough spot," he said. "I know Mike does [fit in]. That's the only way I can answer it. Mike's a great player. He was even better this year. I can say that."

Like Rodriguez, Varitek is a Scott Boras client. Boras has often used his clients to recruit. Varitek doesn't know whether Boras would ask him to recruit A-Rod to Boston.

"Scott tends to separate client to client," said Varitek.

Varitek said he's occasionally asked his opinion about things, but in this case, his testimonials for Lowell and Schilling haven't been solicited. Asked whether he thought the Sox would pursue A-Rod, he said, "I have no idea. You're asking the wrong person. I won't be involved in that."

Varitek said he'd like to see Schilling, who filed for free agency Tuesday, finish his career in a Red Sox uniform.

Gagné files

Reliever Eric Gagné, a profound disappointment after being acquired at the trading deadline from Texas, was the only Sox player who filed for free agency yesterday. Previously, Schilling, Bobby Kielty, Eric Hinske, and Matt Clement filed. To get Gagné, the Sox gave up lefthander Kason Gabbard, who is tentatively penciled into the Rangers' rotation next season after going 2-1 with a 5.58 ERA; outfielder David Murphy, who exceeded expectations by batting .340 with two home runs and 14 RBIs in 43 games with Texas and figures to compete for a roster spot in 2008; and outfield prospect Engel Beltre. Gagné is expected to be a Type A free agent, which would put the Sox in line for draft picks as compensation.

A Matsuzaka fan

Varitek was extremely impressed with the way Daisuke Matsuzaka adapted to everything from cultural differences to language barriers to American major league baseball.

Looking ahead in assessing Matsuzaka, the catcher said, "You always sensed that he wants to be in a certain place. In trying to get there, he tried different things and different preparations, [such as] five days between starts. Learning different hitters and mounds and umpires and stadiums he'd never seen before. He had to deal with media coverage from two countries, new teammates. I could keep going on and on. There was an element he had to deal with. He did such a great job handling it, and next year that stuff will be a lot less and he's going to be able to handle it better and just focus on pitching."

Varitek didn't want to go as far as saying Matsuzaka is following a similar path to that of Josh Beckett, who struggled in his first year in the American League and shined this year.

"I don't want to put him in that category because Josh has had a lot more major league experience," said Varitek. "Josh is also a young guy who made a big maturity step in his career as a pitcher and person."

Varitek said Matsuzaka was "like a sponge, constantly absorbing." As for Matsuzaka's personality, Varitek said, "I love him. He's got a tremendous smile, which everybody knows. I had a joking relationship with him at different times, and for me, that's out of the box. He's just fun. He looks like he really enjoys the game. He's a great athlete. A hit in the World Series. His ability to bounce off the mound. He's just fun. He wants to be great. And learning what he has to do to be great."

Looking back on Matsuzaka's rookie season, Varitek thinks it was a lot better than many believed.

"He was under this scrutiny of being a bad pitcher in the second half," said Varitek, "and when I looked at it, he only had a couple bad outings. Sometimes he did great and we'd score only one run."

Brown catches on

The Sox put catcher Dusty Brown on the 40-man roster rather than risk losing him to free agency. Brown split this season between Double A Portland and Triple A Pawtucket, batting .260 with nine homers and 46 RBIs in 77 games. A righthanded hitter, he's playing for Mesa of the Arizona Fall League, having hit .276 in nine games for the Solar Sox. To make room for him on the roster, the Sox designated Royce Clayton for assignment . . . Hideki Okajima was seen at Fenway yesterday. He's expected to return to Japan shortly. Matsuzaka may stick around for a while and then head to Los Angeles for a meeting with Boras to discuss an offseason strategy for the many marketing deals he may choose to take part in . . . Doug Mirabelli packed up his belongings for what might be the final time in Boston. The catcher is a free agent. The Sox thought Kevin Cash handled Tim Wakefield well at the end of the season and may decide to go in a different direction. Mirabelli would like to return . . . As of late yesterday, the Red Sox had not received a formal request from the Pirates to speak to pitching coach John Farrell about their managing job . . . One Sox official said that while he doesn't know the amount of the postseason shares the players voted to distribute, "a lot of people were taken care of. Everybody from baby-sitters to security people. It was really amazing what a great group these guys were. They didn't forget the little people." . . . It appears manager Terry Francona will attend the GM meetings starting Sunday.

Gordon Edes of the Globe staff contributed to this report; Nick Cafardo can be reached at cafardo@globe.com.

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