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DAN SHAUGHNESSY

Schilling runs hot and cold

When we last saw him on the Fenway mound, he was winning the second game of the World Series while blood seeped into his sock as the Cardinals swung and missed. When the Yankees last saw him, he was beating them in the sixth game of the American League Championship Series. There was blood on his sock that night, too, as the momentum shifted irreversibly in favor of the Red Sox.

That was before the "Curt Across America" tour in which he delivered Ohio to President Bush, told Congress how to do its job at the steroid hearing, appeared on "Celebrity Poker," and ripped Alex Rodriguez a couple of dozen times. That was also before major surgery on his right ankle, which delayed Curt Schilling's 2005 debut with the World Champion Red Sox.

The big guy was back last night and he was downright dominant for four innings before the Yankees touched him for five runs on six hits in the fifth and sixth frames of a 5-2 New York victory. He gave up two homers in the sixth. One could submit that Sox manager Terry Francona went too long with his rusty righty on this cold night, but that would presume that the skipper was calling the shots. We all know that Schill does what Schill wants, so it looks like the braveheart ace might have pushed a little too hard in his 2005 debut.

Wrong, said Curt.

"It wasn't being fatigued," Schilling said. "It's got nothing to do with fatigue and everything to do with execution. I left both home runs out over the plate in the sixth. One was supposed to be a slider away that couldn't have missed by more than it did and the other was a split that didn't drop. I didn't make pitches."

"What I knew is that he would compete," said Francona. "I thought early on he showed he was going to be fine. He made a couple of mistakes in the sixth. If I thought he was fatigued, I would have taken him out . . . I hope not. If he was, I made a mistake."

In any case, Schilling was pretty impressive for a while. On a night fit for ice fishing, he blanked the Bronx Bombers for four innings, allowing only three hits and walking none. He went to two strikes on the first 11 Yankee batters and consistently hit 94 miles per hour.

Not bad considering that Schilling basically went without spring training. He pitched a couple of Florida rehab assignments against Pawtucket, then opened the season with the PawSox and was routed (seven runs, 11 hits, six innings) in his one Triple A start.

Again, Schilling disagreed.

"I had spring training," he countered. "I had close to 30 innings. I'm past all that. I went into this like any other one. I didn't have any questions."

Schilling's reception was appropriately Lindbergh-esque when he came in from the bullpen at 7:04 p.m. Fans stood and cheered, though their applause was somewhat muted because it was 46 degrees with 14-m.p.h. winds. Try to imagine the sound of 33,000 pairs of mittens clapping.

Addressing his ballclub's offensive woes, the estimable Joe Torre threw his starting nine into a blender and produced a new lineup that had Tony Womack leading off, Alex Rodriguez in the five spot, and Bernie Williams in the nine hole.

Schilling opened his season with six consecutive strikes to Womack. The shortstop fouled off three 0-2 pitches before fanning on a 93-m.p.h. heater.

Derek Jeter was next and he made Schilling throw eight pitches before looking at strike three on a 92-m.p.h. fastball that appeared to be low.

"They were grinding me," admitted Schilling.

Schilling struck out A-Rod in the second, but Jorge Posada broke the ice (and we mean ice) with a single to right. It was the only Yankee hit in the first two innings, in which Schilling threw 40 pitches, 30 for strikes.

The first crisis came in the fifth. After a single by Jason Giambi, Tino Martinez roped a ground-rule double into the Sox bullpen. With one out, Womack drew a walk on a 3-2 pitch -- Schilling's first free pass of the night. Jeter cracked a single to right to make it a 1-1 game. Schilling was at 85 pitches and there was no one throwing in the bullpen. A Gary Sheffield sacrifice fly made it 2-1, then pitching coach Dave Wallace came out to talk. Schilling struck out Hideki Matsui on a splitter to get out of the jam, his 94th pitch.

With one out in the sixth, Posada singled to right. Then Giambi hit a towering home run into the right-field seats to give the Yankees a 4-2 lead. Schilling was at 103 pitches. At that point, somebody nudged Francona in the Sox dugout and Mike Timlin got up to throw. On pitch No. 108, Williams hit one over the Sox bullpen. It was 5-2, and Francona came out to get his favorite starter.

Encouraged?

"I'm not," said Schilling. "I lost."

It wasn't a shutout, or even a victory for Schilling, but for the better part of five innings he looked like he was in midseason form. Not a bad start considering everything that's happened to him since the instant folklore of his red October.

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

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