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DAN SHAUGHNESSY

Not thrilling -- just Schilling

ANAHEIM, Calif. -- He is the only player on the Red Sox roster who was part of the Boston organization the last time the Sox made it to the World Series.

In 1986, Curt Schilling was a raw, 19-year-old righthander who had just played his first season of professional baseball. He'd been signed by Ray Boone, the grandfather of you-know-who, and he went 7-3 for Elmira of the New York-Penn League (short-season Single A ball). Young Curt was in a Hooters restaurant when the ball slipped between Bill Buckner's legs. He was crushed. As a new member of the organization, he thought he was in line for some portion of World Series hardware if the parent club won.

Eighteen years, four teams, and 184 major league victories later, Schilling finally got the ball for the Boston Red Sox in a postseason game, and he did what he was supposed to do. Staked to an 8-0 lead in the fourth inning, the big guy threw strikes and beat the Anaheim Angels, 9-3, with 6 2/3 innings of solid though unspectacular pitching.

"I did not have good command," he said. "I had good velocity [he hit 96 m.p.h. in the seventh inning], but that's as bad as I've thrown commandwise in five or six weeks."

It didn't matter. Schilling was money just about every time out this year. Give him an eight-run lead in the fourth, and everyone might as well switch to cable news to see what the talking heads are saying about the presidential debate.

ESPN officials had to be groaning when the Sox put a 7-spot on the board in the fourth. There was simply no way Schilling was going to lose. In this, his first season with the Red Sox, he was the winningest pitcher in the majors (21-6), and yesterday's Game 1 victory set his postseason line at 6-1 with a 1.74 ERA in 12 starts. That would include 2001, when he went 4-0 for the Diamondbacks and won the World Series ring that has eluded folks in Red Sox uniforms for 86 years. Among pitchers with more than 75 innings of playoff experience, Schilling currently ranks third in ERA. And the Angels know they'll see him again, in Anaheim Sunday, if there is a fifth and deciding game.

If you haven't been paying attention, now you know why Theo Epstein flew to Arizona for Thanksgiving dinner with the Schillings last November. Because of the way the Sox' season ended in 2003, and the fact that several current stars might be gone next season (Pedro Martinez, Jason Varitek, Derek Lowe), the Sox are going for broke in 2004. And Schilling gives them their best chance to win. They know what they're going to get every time out. That's why he got the ball in Game 1.

It was hardly vintage Curt. He gave up nine hits and did not have a 1-2-3 inning. He struck out only four. He made a ridiculous throwing error. He gave up a couple of solo homers. But as he stated so perfectly when it was over, "This is a different time of year when it comes to assessing your performance. We won.

"I made some mistakes today. I left the ball out over the plate [on solo homers by Troy Glaus in the fourth and Darin Erstad in the seventh], but at that point, solo home runs don't beat you."

He tweaked his right ankle while covering first base on a Garret Anderson grounder in the sixth. He twice had trouble planting his right foot when he made his throwing error on Anderson's chopper in the seventh. He said the ankle will be OK. Manager Terry Francona (who actually wore his No. 47 uniform jersey for a few innings) did not seem worried.

Schilling, who was more disappointed than anyone else with the Nomar Garciaparra he saw in 2004, went out of his way to compliment Orlando Cabrera, who made an nifty inning-ending play on Anderson with two aboard in the third.

"When that ball got by me, I was thinking it was a hit," said the ace. "But Orlando made a phenomenal play. He's a game-changer in the field."

That's when this was still a 1-0 game.

"When we got that run in the first inning, my thought was, `They cannot tie the game,' " said Schilling. "I did not want them to have any momentum whatsoever."

When the Sox made it 8-0 in the fourth, Schilling started thinking about his next start.

"It changes things a little bit," he acknowledged. "I might pitch another game against these guys and there's certain things I try to do to get a feel for a certain situation. I just didn't have the command."

Au contraire, said hairy fella Johnny Damon: "If you ask me, this was his best outing of the year because he stepped up when it counted."

This is the beauty of the Boston ace. He prepares as thoroughly as any pitcher in baseball and he has the attitude of a champion. He stands as the best evidence that these are not your Grady Red Sox. Curt Schilling is here to win a championship and he knows how to get it done because he already has won a ring -- against the Yankees, no less. If this playoff route goes to the Apple, Schilling is one guy who won't be taking the apple.

Eighteen years later, the teenager from Hooters is back with the Boston organization and this time he plans on being on the mound when the Red Sox finally return to the World Series.

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

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