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DAN SHAUGHNESSY

Put this one in circular file

TORONTO -- Hours before the first pitch was tossed, Terry Francona said Curt Schilling would have some extra incentive when he took the mound last night against the Blue Jays. Schilling's last pitch here April 22 resulted in a game-losing grand slam off the bat of the inimitable Chris Gomez. Francona and everyone else knew that Schilling was going to be spitting nails on his return trip to George Jetson's home park.

"Of course, that doesn't guarantee a win," cautioned the Sox manager.

Good call, skip. In the shortest outing of his Red Sox career, Schilling went only five innings, giving up eight hits and three runs in a particularly ugly 12-6 loss to the Blue Jays. The Sox fell out of first place (behind you-know-who) for the first time in 20 days.

Before we go any further, two words about Boston's defense . . . not good. The Sox made two more errors, giving them 33 in 35 games. A line drive that clanged off the glove of Johnny Damon in the five-run sixth was particularly crushing. The Sox also failed to catch a foul pop in the seventh, which led to a couple of insurance runs. Amid the hail of dropped liners and untouched popups, the lasting image of this one will be that of a hustling Kevin Millar belly flopping in right field on a ball he had no chance to catch in the eighth. It was about as graceful as one of Tony Soprano's cannonballs off the highboard.

In the American League, only the Tigers have more errors than the Red Sox. Trust me when I say you don't want your team to be mentioned in any sentence that contains the words "only the Tigers."

Schilling wasn't around for the sloppy play (except for a bloop double in the first that Damon might have had). He made no excuses and talked about a play he failed to make on one of several comebackers to the mound.

"We've got to pitch more consistently and we've got to play better defense," said Schilling. "We're certainly better than this as a pitching staff and we can play a lot better defense. It just hasn't shown."

Francona, captain of the "glass-is-always-half-full" club, admitted, "We gave them a lot of extra opportunities. They had a lot of chances where we couldn't make a play or couldn't finish a play, and it hurt us."

Whoa. Get back, Loretta. In Francona-speak, that's practically a Jim Mora-esque rip job. And well deserved at that.

Clearly, the Sox do not expect to give up 17 hits and lose a game by the score of 12-6 when Schilling is the starting pitcher. And this was, in fact, a 3-1 game when Schilling departed after five.

His short night was not due to lack of preparation. Never is. The new ace was in the visitors' clubhouse, already dressed, when the door swung open for the press at 3:30 p.m. Spikes. Hat. Everything. He looked like he wanted to beat up somebody.

He stalked around, cleats clacking on the cement floor near the shower room. He sat down and read the USA Today sports section. He drank bottled water. He gripped a baseball. Then he got up and walked into the trainer's room, carrying a couple of thick files in his large left hand. Schilling has a complete dossier on every hitter, umpire, and ballpark in baseball.

"He's the most prepared pitcher I've ever been around," said Millar. "He's got a purpose for every pitch he throws. He works fast, throws strikes. The guy is a horse."

Schilling's always a "horse." Have you noticed? Four out of every five people who describe Schilling wind up saying, "He's a horse." Fans say it. Players say it. People in the front office and the press box say it. En route to Tampa, where he'll make his next start, maybe Schilling should stop by Pimlico and run the Preakness this weekend. After all, as you must have heard by now, the guy is a horse.

A horse who looks ready to kick out the barn door on the day he's supposed to pitch.

Francona said he's seen Schilling in the locker room in full uniform as many as six hours before one of his starts.

"Every starter has a different routine," said the Sox manager. "Schill really gets focused. If he were too friendly I'd be concerned, but that's never a problem."

"I asked him about that in spring training," said Millar. "He told me that on the day he's pitching, I should think of what it's like for me when I'm on deck. And that made sense to me because at that point, it's total concentration."

But silence for six hours?

"I get to talk to him," said Jason Varitek. "I'm allowed. I'm a catcher."

At 6:15, Schilling brought all of his paperwork into the dugout (does Alan Dershowitz carry this many briefs into a courtroom?) and sat alone on the bench. The rest of the Red Sox were still in the clubhouse listening to Garth Brooks ("Friends in Low Places") and the Eagles ("Hotel California").

He finally got out to the mound after the Sox went scoreless in the top of the first, but the start of his start was not what Schilling wanted. Orlando Hudson ripped a double to right, then scored on a bloop double to center. Back-to-back walks to Vernon Wells and Carlos Delgado put Schilling in a tight squeeze, but he got out of the jam on a 1-2-3 double play and a liner to center. Schilling gave up another run and used the double-play ball to get out of another monster jam in the third.

There was more trouble in the fifth. With two on and none out, a posse of Sox personnel (including assistant trainer Chris Correnti) came out to the mound to confer with Schilling after his second pitch to Frank Catalanotto. Schilling has some soreness in his right ankle from "hooking the rubber" when he delivers. But he made no excuses.

"I was just very inconsistent."

The good news is that the horse is healthy and should be ready to race again Wednesday in Tampa. He's probably already sifting through his Devil Ray files. But the bad news is that the Red Sox have lost nine of 14 and fallen out of first place. Last night's loss isn't going to play well on NPR (Nation Public Radio). It's time for the fellows to start catching the baseball.

Dan Shaughnessy is a Globe columnist. His e-mail address is dshaughnessy@globe.com. 

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