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ON BASEBALL

It's a trying time for converted closer

DETROIT -- Curt Schilling never looked so dejected. Never looked so disappointed.

You can understand why.

This is a Red Sox team that's clicking in just about every way.

They had won 13 straight at home. They were on their way to a win last night. Bronson Arroyo had a quality start (six innings, three runs). Good set-up by Mike Timlin. Chad Bradford got into a bit of a jam in the eighth, but Schilling got the final out.

It looked to be in the bag.

The Sox were leading, 6-4, when Schilling struck out Curtis Granderson to end the eighth, stranding a runner at second.

Sooner or later, though, it had to catch up to Schilling. He has been dodging the inevitable. His saves weren't clean. Opponents were hitting .301 against him entering last night. He had given up eight homers.

And then in the ninth, he allowed a single to right by leadoff hitter Placido Polanco. A one-out triple by Dmitri Young scored Detroit's fifth run, and after Magglio Ordonez tied it with a single, Schilling walked Craig Monroe. He rebounded by striking out Brandon Inge. Two outs. John McDonald up.

McDonald singled to left, scoring Ordonez with the winning run and touching off a celebration that made it seem as though the Tigers had won the World Series.

''It was a big deal," insisted Tigers manager Alan Trammell. ''I'm going to give our guys credit. Everybody recognizes Curt Schilling for what he's accomplished. This guy is arguably, possibly, a future Hall of Famer. If not, he's been one of the most dominating pitchers of this era. That is a fact.

''We've been up and down and gotten beat up a little bit. I think we did a great job tonight and I want to give our guys credit for what they did toinight."

The jubilation of the Tigers clubhouse was 180 degrees from the Boston room. Even the usually buoyant Terry Francona seemed a little down.

The manager was asked a bevy of questions about Schilling. Has Schilling been working too much? Is he still experimenting with all of his pitches? In reality, it was going to catch up to him. After, he is not Mariano Rivera. Or even John Smoltz.

Who didn't think there would be tough ones along the way?

''I think it shows his character that he's willing to step into that role and help the team like he did," Trammell said. ''I've always believed when great players put their minds to accomplishing something, there's not much they can't do. From what I understand, Curt's been pretty good out there and Tito is pretty pleased about it."

Schilling has never downplayed how tough the closer's job is, and he's always had great respect for those who do it full-time.

It can be a pretty lonesome job on nights like these.

''I can't let it be more than one night," said Schilling. ''Mistakes, pitch selection, locations, all of it," said Schilling, listing his crimes. ''Shook off Tek on Polanco, left a ball up to Dmitri, Mags hit a decent pitch. Just didn't execute."

He's trying to simplify what isn't always a simple job.

''I'm just trying to get people out," he said. ''You've got to make pitches. I'm compounding mistakes by making more mistakes. I can't do that."

When a reporter asked about making a mistake on Polanco, Schilling said, ''There's more than one. A lot more than one. You start the inning off by allowing the leadoff man on . . ."

He went back to shaking off Varitek, saying, ''We were supposed to throw something other than what we threw. In hindsight, it was probably a real bad decision on my end.

''You can't cost your team games while learning to do the job. There's no excuse for that. As hard as Brons battled and as hard as we worked tonight, to put ourselves in a postion to win this game, you just can't let that happen."

With all the good things the first-place Red Sox have done to overcome some pretty tough obstacles, the facts are hard to ignore.

These Chuck Waseleski bullpen stats don't tell a pretty story:

On the road: 7 wins, 11 losses, 148 1/3 innings, 184 hits, 100 earned runs, 53 walks, 89 strikeouts, 14 saves, 6 blown saves, and a 6.07 ERA.

The bullpen in save situations overall: 87 1/3 innings, 100 hits, 51 runs, 49 earned runs, 27 walks, 62 strikeouts, 27 saves, 14 blown, 5.05 ERA.

Keith Foulke and Schilling have combined for 30 appearances, 30 innings, 43 hits, 29 earned runs, 12 walks, 25 strikeouts, 24 saves in 30 opportunities, an 8.70 ERA.

Schilling has now pitched 10 1/3 innings in save situations, allowing 9 hits, 5 earned runs, 5 walks, 12 strikeouts.

''I don't feel like I've pitched too much or too little or anything," he said. ''This is a result-oriented business. Tonight was a horrible night for me."

Not so bad for McDonald.

''They have a lot of talent over there and they expect to win every night," said McDonald. ''That's where we want to get as a club. I remember getting one good swing against Schilling once, but I'm not afraid to face anyone. He's a great pitcher and to get a hit off him is an accomplishment."

Oh yes, this one hurt. It hurt Schilling. It hurt a Red Sox team that can only be stopped, it seems, by itself.

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