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YANKEES 5, RED SOX 2

Coming up short

Sixth-inning homers spoil ace's debut

He blew away Tony Womack (swinging) and Derek Jeter (looking) to begin the game. He touched 94 miles per hour. He pitched in 46-degree weather and said he had no ankle stiffness. He was in a 2-2 game against a Yankee lineup featuring nine former All-Stars when he walked to the mound for the sixth inning.

Thing was, Curt Schilling wasn't available at that moment to sit before the notebooks and tape recorders. Had he been, we might have a better read on Schilling's health, stamina, velocity, and location. Instead, when asked how he would rate his performance following a 5-2 loss in his 2005 debut, Schilling was curt.

"A loss,'' said the 38-year-old righthander, who hadn't pitched in a major-league game since Game 2 of the World Series Oct. 24.

He lost because of what happened with two pitches, Nos. 103 and 108.

"It wasn't fatigue and leaving a fastball up,'' Schilling contended. "It was yanking a slider and hanging a split.''

Jason Giambi, serenaded with the usual ``Steroids'' chant, lined a 2-and-1 Schilling slider into the seats in right with one out and Jorge Posada aboard in the sixth, snapping a 2-2 tie.

"The one to Jason was supposed to be a slider away, and I threw it down and in,'' said Schilling, who gave up nine hits. "Couldn't miss by more than I missed.''

Schilling collected himself, recorded a Tino Martinez ground out, then left a 1-1 slider up to Bernie Williams, who was hitting ninth in the lineup for the first time since 1995. The Yankees center fielder looked a bit off-balance but whipped his bat through the zone, lining the ball over the Sox bullpen in right-center.

That was it for Schilling. His 108th pitch, and 78th strike, was his last. Manager Terry Francona, who before the game said Schilling could go as many as 110 pitches, popped out of the dugout, causing Schilling to turn his back and kick the clay off his cleats. Last season Schilling didn't surrender two home runs in one game until his 16th start, when Philadelphia's Pat Burrell and David Bell took him deep June 27.

Francona and Schilling both shot down the appearance of fatigue at that stage in the game.

Said Schilling: "I had a spring training. I threw close to 30 innings, regardless of who or where. I felt ready.''

Said Francona: "If I thought he was fatigued, I would have taken him out.''

At 0-1, Schilling already has matched his total number of losses at Fenway Park last season, when he went 12-1 with a 3.45 ERA in the Back Bay. His only loss was to new teammate John Halama, then with Tampa Bay.

On paper, Schilling should not have lost last night. He threw 72.2 percent of his pitches for strikes, far higher than the 50.5 percent (49 of 97) by Yankees starter Jaret Wright. Wright walked four and struck out two, while Schilling struck out five and walked one.

Wright, who recorded his first win as a Yankee, nearly did himself in in the third inning, when he threw 35 pitches, 23 of them balls, and went to three-ball counts on five of the six Red Sox he faced.

Johnny Damon doubled with one out, a hit that seemed to unsettle Wright, who was visibly upset with himself. Wright then walked Trot Nixon and Manny Ramirez, Ramirez on a full-count pitch that bounced in front of Posada, loading the bases.

David Ortiz produced a sacrifice fly to left for the 1-0 Sox lead. Wright then walked Kevin Millar on four pitches, reloading the bases. But Edgar Renteria hit a slow roller to Jeter, who made a seamless play fielding the ball and throwing to Tino Martinez at first. Renteria, who early this season has been speedy by reputation only, ran harder than he had at any previous point in a Red Sox uniform. He leaped for the bag, was a split-second late, and jumped, spinning in the air and thrashing his arms in frustration.

Renteria did go 2 for 4, singling twice, but he's hitting just .219 (7 for 32).

"That was the key play of the game,'' said Yankees manager Joe Torre.

At the end of four innings, Schilling had allowed just three hits, but in the fifth and sixth he lapsed.

Giambi led off the fifth with a single to second base, where the Sox were playing an aggressive infield shift that betrayed them. Renteria, well to the right of second, dived but couldn't come up with a ball hit to the spot where second baseman Ramon Vazquez would have been in the usual fielding alignment.

Tino Martinez then doubled, Williams flied out, and Schilling walked Womack, loading the bases. Jeter, bumped out of the leadoff spot and into the two-hole in a new-look Yankee lineup, singled to right, scoring Giambi. Gary Sheffield's sacrifice fly produced a 2-1 New York lead.

Schilling got himself out of a two-on, two-out jam with a strikeout of Hideki Matsui on a splitter, his fifth and final whiff.

Nixon led off the bottom of the inning with a solo home run, lining a hanging Wright curveball into the Sox bullpen. The homer, Nixon's second, tied him with Ortiz and Jason Varitek for the team lead and tied the game, 2-2.

But by then, heading into the sixth, the high pitch count was getting to Schilling. The Yankees prolong at-bats as well, if not better, than any team in baseball, and Schilling was feeling the effects.

"Going into the fifth inning they were grinding me,'' Schilling said. "Every out, they made me throw a lot of pitches.''

This wasn't how Schilling envisioned it, not during the pregame, when he prepared in his usual fashion. He sat on the Red Sox bench, in solitude, counting down the time until his pregame bullpen session. Exactly 38 minutes before the scheduled beginning of the game, as is his custom, he walked out of the dugout to cheers and the "Cheers'' theme song. People were thrilled to see him, as were his teammates, even in defeat.

"I liked the fact he could reach back and hit 95,'' said Johnny Damon. "He threw a little cutter that really buckled some guys. I was really happy to see him go out and throw 110 pitches. He wasn't hobbling. That's definitely a plus.''

There are no pluses for Schilling, only reality: he's 0-1 with a 7.94 ERA as the ace of a 3-5 team.

"This counts,'' Schilling said. "I'm here to win. Period. I don't take positives out of losses.''

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