There was a lot of concern in the Nation regarding the health and well-being of new ace Curt Schilling. Mr. Late-Night Web-Man was telling his blog friends that his right ankle was hurting and he might have to shut down. Schilling flew home from Colorado last week for an MRI as rumors danced across the air and the Net.
All of which explains why so many eyes were fixed on Boston's No. 1 pitch man when he took the mound last night to open a six-game homestand. Schilling passed the test and put the speculation to rest. His ankle injected with two shots of Marcaine, he was tough enough to pitch seven innings of four-hit ball in a 9-2 victory over the Twins.
It's been an interesting month for Schilling. Suspicious of (and annoyed by) the local media -- a throng that has covered his arrival and subsequent success with the praise and exuberance afforded Charles Lindbergh in 1927 -- Schilling chooses to reveal his inner thoughts to a fan website. Some of his recent musings led fans to fear the ace was facing shutdown or even surgery. Those fears were assuaged last week when an MRI indicated he was OK to keep pitching.
Everything was fine at the Fens last night.
"It doesn't bother me on the nights I pitch," said Schilling. "They take care of that. This is the one night a week I don't worry about it. I think on the positive side. I've taken the second shots more right now as a precautionary thing than anything. I don't want to be out on the mound and have something show up or start to wear off."
General manager Theo Epstein said, "The big picture is we want to make sure this thing is not getting worse. We don't want him to do anything that would lead to damage to his ankle and we took steps to make sure it had stabilized. As long as it's stable or improving, we let him pitch.
"Basically, it's a bone bruise. The symptoms decreased last week and we think it's going in the right direction."
Asked about Schilling's late-night web chats, Epstein said, "I don't think Curt would do anything to hurt the organization. The players have individual rights, and interaction with fans is a good thing. One could nitpick with his choice of venue, but we're glad he's interacting with fans."
The silicone diodes must have been flying after last night's stellar performance.
Schilling's first inning was cake: eight pitches, seven strikes, three up, three down.
Torii Hunter took away the no-hit possibility with a one-out single to center in the second, but he ran the Twins out of the inning when he tried to take third on Matthew LeCroy's two-out single to left. Schilling was back to 1-2-3 form in the third and had thrown only 28 pitches in three innings -- an amazing 24 for strikes.
Red Sox pitching coach Dave Wallace said Schilling's control might have been too good. He was around the plate on every pitch, and the Twins started to make good contact by swinging at everything.
His first three-ball count came with two outs in the fourth when Corey Koskie worked the count full, fouled off two pitches, then took a 94-mile-per-hour fastball on the outside corner for strike three. Schilling did not look like a man with a sore ankle.
The Twins reached him for a cheap run in the fifth. Jacque Jones, who made an Al Luplow/Terrence Long catch in right field in the fourth, hit a one-out single and came around to score when Johnny Damon couldn't find LeCroy's routine fly to deep center (a misplay that prompted 33,000 people to say, "Carlos Beltran would have had it!"). Schilling retired the next two batters as the Sox clung to a 2-1 lead.
Manny Ramirez (obviously stronger after the day off on Sunday) hit a monstrous homer in the bottom of the sixth to make it 3-1. The Sox continued to make fine defensive plays (including a nifty spin-o-rama throw by Nomar on a ball headed for center), and the Sox bullpen didn't stir until the Twins went out in order in the seventh. While the Sox were batting in the bottom of the inning, a TV camera caught Schilling scribbling into one of his many notebooks while Manny -- sitting to Schilling's left -- laughed and poked fun at the note-taking. It was classic Schilling and classic Manny, something right out of junior high school.
There was no need for the big guy to come back in with a 9-1 lead after a lengthy bottom half of the seventh.
"This was another night I went out and we scored a ton of runs," said Schilling. "As a pitcher, you just kind of sit back and enjoy."
Schilling improves to 9-4 on the year, a stellar 6-0 at home. Good news all around at Fenway.