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SOX GLAD TO PUT TRUST IN VARITEK

The veteran catcher's Game 6 homer came at the perfect time, not for him, but for his team.

Eric Hinske didn't hesitate.

Who, the question went, is the soul of the Boston Red Sox?

The Rays outfielder, left off the ALCS roster, spent parts of two seasons with Boston, winning a world championship in 2007, and the answer came quickly.

"Jason Varitek is the captain of the Boston Red Sox," he said.

And that's all anyone needs to know. When the Red Sox fell behind three games to one in this ALCS, being outscored 31-13 in Games 2-4, it was Varitek who insisted, with a drill sergeant glare and hushed tones: "We're still in it, and that's a good thing."

When Boston overcame a seven-run deficit in the seventh inning to survive in Game 5, his jubilation was thus: "This was just good for our ballclub. Everybody had something to do with something."

And in Game 6 he spoke with his bat for the first time in the series, breaking an 0-for-15 slump and a 2-2 tie in the top of the sixth inning with a home run off James Shields. Boston never trailed again. The Rays had tied the score in the fifth with a Jason Bartlett home run.

"I can fortunately go 0-for-2,000 and put down the right fingers and get pitchers to do stuff and come away gratified," the 36-year-old catcher said. "You may not have that opportunity in other positions that I have, and I enjoy that."

Varitek's teammates are inclined to say much more.

"The biggest hit of the series, as far as I'm concerned," said Tampa native and former Ray Kevin Cash of the home run. "If they tie it up on Bartlett's home run and we don't answer back right there, the momentum is with them. But we quickly got it back from them. It was unbelievable. Unbelievable."

The appreciation of Varitek has been heightened this postseason over speculation that he may retire after 12 seasons, all with Boston.

Though he won a Gold Glove in 2005 and remains a stalwart game-caller, his hitting production this season from the left side has been minuscule (.201), likely from diminishing bat speed.

He has hit .284 from the right side. His homer on Saturday came left-handed, pulled into the first rows in right-centerfield.

"Look at Varitek," pitcher Paul Byrd said. "Nobody cares more than him. The C is on his jersey for a reason. He cares more about the pitchers than he does his own hitting. He's been struggling this series, and then he comes up big and crushes the ball, gets the game-winning RBI. You just can't say enough about him coming through there."

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