NEW YORK -- Is it merely coincidence or convenience that Curt Schilling's season to this point can be divided into two halves, the four starts before he hurled 133 pitches at Cleveland and the four starts beginning with that night? Quite possibly.
But Schilling has not been the same pitcher since that evening, at least not in the hits/runs/home runs columns.
Schilling was 4-0 with a 1.61 ERA before that April night at Jacobs Field, an evening that signaled the end of the innocence and possibly the excellence.
Including last night, when he left trailing, 6-3, in a 7-3 loss, he is 1-2 with a 6.20 ERA in his last four starts. He allowed 17 hits (two of them homers) in 28 innings through four starts. He's allowed 31 hits (five of them homers, three of those last night) in 24 2/3 innings covering his last four games, at Cleveland and Tampa Bay, home vs. Baltimore, and last night before 54,769 at Yankee Stadium.
Last night was particularly painful for Schilling, who was staked to leads of 2-0 and 3-0. David Ortiz, 2 for 24 in his last six games entering last night, was 4 for 4, with the swing of greatest consequence coming in his initial at-bat, with Mark Loretta aboard.
Against reborn Mike Mussina, who came in 5-1 with a 2.35 ERA, Ortiz engaged in a mesmerizing at-bat, fouling off three full-count fastballs before Mussina made a mistake, leaving an 89-mile-per-hour fastball over the inside half of the plate.
Ortiz, who doesn't miss in that locale, lost it in the upper deck in right for his 12th homer of the season and a 2-0 lead.
Mike Lowell tacked on another run, on his third homer of the year, with one out in the second inning. Beginning with last Thursday's game, Lowell has nine hits and not a single among them (eight doubles, one homer).
And with that the feeling in the Red Sox dugout was universal.
Manager Terry Francona put it one way: ''[Mussina] came in so hot, and it was so encouraging that we swung the bats like that early. We get a three-run lead and we feel like huge advantage to us."
Schilling put it similarly: ''Ortiz has a phenomenal at-bat in the first inning to get us up, 2-0, Mikey Lowell hits a home run to get us up, 3-0. The way Mike's pitching you don't expect much more to happen. I felt like I had everything working.
''I gave it, and they took it back."
He gave it quickly, with several expensive mistakes.
''A night full of them," Schilling said. ''Pick one."
Francona succinctly accounted for them.
''[He] left a cutter over to [Jason] Giambi, two-run homer," the manager said. ''Fastball to Alex [Rodriguez] over the middle of the plate, homer. Changeup to [Jorge] Posada, two-run homer. That's five runs."
And that's basically where the game was decided, as Schilling allowed three homers for the first time since Aug. 9, 2004, when Tampa Bay's Aubrey Huff, Tino Martinez, and Toby Hall took him out of Fenway.
The Yankees, before riding the long ball, cut it to 3-1 in the second with small ball -- a Bernie Williams sacrifice fly. But the power came on in the third, when Derek Jeter singled ahead of Giambi, the Yankee slugger whose swing looks as smooth, adjustable, and hurtful as ever. He turned on the first pitch he saw, an 87-mile-per-hour, backdoor cutter/slider that, as Schilling put it, ''never got to the backdoor. Right down the middle."
Into the fifth Schilling looked to have regained both composure and location. He got Jeter to swing and miss at a biting splitter to lead off the inning. He then reached back against Giambi, fanning him with a wave of heat (94 on the gun), leaving the Sox' ace one out shy of escaping the fifth tied, 3-3.
But he fell behind Rodriguez and, on 2 and 1, threw the kind of pitch you pay 75 cents for on Route 1 in Saugus. It was a straight fastball over the nucleus of the plate and A-Rod took a nuclear swing. His seventh homer of the year, but first at Yankee Stadium, made it 4-3. It was also his 436th career homer, 35th all time, six behind Manny Ramirez (441) for 33d place.
''Ball that A-Rod hit was a 2-1 fastball on the plate," Schilling said.
Schilling shook off Varitek before throwing the pitch, but Varitek didn't want to get into the thought process.
''We're not going to get that deep," the captain said. ''It's not about me. It's about the guy on the mound. [Rodriguez] gambled right."
Schilling then walked Hideki Matsui, bringing up Posada. On 1 and 1, his 95th pitch, Schilling again shook off Varitek, opting for a changeup. It was, Varitek later said, the only changeup Schilling threw among his 100 pitches, and Posada lifted it into the sky. Schilling pointed upward, hoping that Trot Nixon could run it down in right field. But Nixon ran to the wall, put his hand up to brace himself, and watched as the towering shot came down in the third deck.
''I left a changeup right in the middle of the plate," Schilling said. ''I don't know if it was pitch selection as much as execution, which I felt was the case most of the night.
''The problem there was I had two outs and had the inning in hand. I made a mistake to one of the top two or three hitters in the game. He does what he's going to do. But it's still a 4-3 game. At that point you've got to [do] damage control."
Instead, Schilling left in a 6-3 hole, giving way to Mike Holtz, who hadn't pitched in the big leagues since September 2002 with the Dodgers. Williams led off the sixth with a double against Holtz, Melky Cabrera sacrificed him to second, and Johnny Damon (0 for 10 to that point against the Sox this season) lined a single for a 7-3 lead.
The loss was Schilling's, as he fell to 5-2 with a 3.76 ERA, with steady inflation in that figure coming in his last four starts.
''Haven't pitched as well these last four, just not pitching well," he said. ''I knew going into the game the way Mike was throwing there was a small strike zone. Not having corners, he figured it out and I didn't."
Has Varitek discerned anything?
''How much of that is you're one pitch away?" he asked.
And, that was an accurate statement, because with one pitch to Rodriguez, it could have been a vastly different ballgame.
''I'm not going to panic," Varitek said. ''I'll say that."