SAN FRANCISCO -- Sure, the game turned on a controversial call. A terrible call, by nearly all indications.
But as much as second base umpire Sam Holbrook almost certainly botched a seventh-inning ruling that badly damaged the Red Sox in yesterday's nailbiter by the Bay, the ledger also should preserve an indelible truth: The individuals who really beat the Sox were Jason Schmidt and Edgardo Alfonzo.
In one of the most dazzling pitching performances against the Sox since the Yawkey Era ended, Schmidt utterly overpowered them as he unfurled a complete-game one-hitter in a 4-0 victory before 42,568 at SBC Park in the finale of the first-ever regular-season series between the ancient rivals.
And Alfonzo, who two winters ago nearly signed with the Sox before opting for a longer term deal with the Giants, delivered the death blow. A day after he crushed the Sox with a tie-breaking two-run shot in the seventh inning off Alan Embree, Alfonzo broke a scoreless tie in the eighth inning by cranking a grand slam off Mike Timlin.
Together, Schmidt and Alfonzo (with an assist from Holbrook) sent the Sox home from their six-game swing through Colorado and San Francisco a disappointing 2-4. One bright note: The Sox remained 4 1/2 games behind the division-leading Yankees, who lost to the Dodgers, 5-4.
"Right now, Alfonzo is a thorn in my side," said catcher Jason Varitek who called both game-breaking pitches.
Not that Schmidt was any less prickly. Schmidt's gem -- he no-hit the Sox until Kevin Youkilis doubled into the left field corner leading off the sixth inning -- unfolded 33 days after he went the distance in one-hitting the Cubs, 1-0, at Wrigley Field. He became the first pitcher this year to blank the Sox (they were the last team in the majors to be shut out) and the first to throw a complete-game one-hitter against them since Mike Mussina of the Yankees Sept. 2, 2001.
"We believe every time he takes the mound he has a shot at pitching a no-hitter," Giants manager Felipe Alou said. "That's the way I felt about Pedro Martinez when he pitched for me [in Montreal]. You have to go to pitchers like Nolan Ryan, Roger Clemens, Pedro Martinez, [Curt] Schilling and [Randy] Johnson to find guys that throw one-hitters within a couple of months of each other."
Schmidt overshadowed a dandy start by Bronson Arroyo, who held the Giants scoreless until Holbrook took center stage in the seventh inning.
"He pitched his heart out," manager Terry Francona said. "He just refused to give in and he gave us a chance against probably the best pitcher we've seen all year."
The Giants, who had mustered only two inconsequential singles and a bloop double against Arroyo through the first six innings, got their first break in the seventh inning when Michael Tucker looped a one-out double down the right-field line while snapping his bat in half.
Arroyo, whose highest previous pitch count was 114 for the Pirates against the Mets in 2001, then walked Marquis Grissom with his 124th pitch of the game. At that, Francona summoned the lefthanded Embree to face the lefthanded legend, Barry Bonds. And for the second straight night, Embree retired Bonds. Or so it seemed.
This time, Bonds lofted a pop to shallow left, only for the third baseman, Youkilis, to lose it in the wind and sun. Still, left fielder Kevin Millar cleanly handled it on one hop and fired to Nomar Garciaparra covering third to force out Tucker. Or so it seemed.
Then came a bigger break for the Giants. Holbrook saw things differently, ruling that Tucker beat the throw and sending Francona into a tizzy.
"I would have rather us caught the ball," Francona said, "but I thought we had two outs and first and second and still had life. But it didn't turn out that way."
While Francona was ejected for the first time with the Sox, his fielders held their cool, at least until the game ended.
"How does he miss that call?" Millar said. "I don't know. No question about it, he was out by a foot and a half."
The play loaded the bases with one out for Alfonzo, prompting the Sox to summon Timlin, who had held Alfonzo hitless in five career at-bats. Yet Timlin needed to pitch Alfonzo differently with one out and the bases loaded than he would have with two outs and runners at first and second.
"The play before that changed the complexion of what we would have been able to do," Varitek said. "Not making excuses, but it makes a difference."
Timlin needed a double-play ball to escape unscathed. But Alfonzo pounded a 92-mile-an-hour sinker over the left-field wall.
"I was trying to get a groundball," Timlin said. "I was trying to throw sinkers in and I didn't get it far enough in. It was just a mistake down the middle and he hit it."
Schmidt, who arrived for work with neck spasms and needed last-minute physical therapy to make his start, proved a pain in the neck for the Sox the rest of the way. In fact, the only real chance they had against Schmidt came in the sixth inning after Youkilis doubled and Arroyo reached on an unusual play in which he missed a bunt attempt for a third strike and Giants catcher A.J. Pierzynski boxed the pitch in front of him and failed to throw to first in time for the out.
With none out and runners at first and second, Francona opted against Johnny Damon dropping a sacrifice bunt after the Giants drew the infield in.
"We have the pitcher on first base and a slow runner on second," Francona said. "The odds of us getting a runner over probably aren't as good as we'd like them to be. That's not a bad time to bunt, even in my book, but I liked our chances swinging."
However, Damon flied to left before Schmidt got Mark Bellhorn on a fielder's choice and David Ortiz on a ground out.
In the end, the Sox took consolation in returning to Fenway Park, where they have gone 22-11. They are 17-18 on the road.
And, no, the two straight jarring losses hardly sapped their spirit.
"We're not devastated at all," Timlin said. "It takes a lot to devastate this team. We'll keep coming at you. We're not going to fall off the edge of the earth."