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ROYALS 7, RED SOX 4

Royal flush

Schilling, Red Sox get trumped in trip finale

KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- How fitting the pitch thrown by Jonathan Papelbon that resulted in Kansas City's last and most emphatic run of the night -- a 422-foot Emil Brown homer deep into the Missouri night -- was a splitter, the pitch Curt Schilling taught Papelbon during spring training.

Because Schilling, who'd allowed Kansas City's other six runs in the Sox' 7-4 loss, didn't have much success commanding his marquee pitch, either. Schilling, who was tagged for six runs on nine hits in his first start in 123 days, didn't throw his splitter until the ninth batter he faced, and threw only three through four innings.

''A lot of that is confidence," Schilling said.

Following the game, which sent the Sox to a losing record (4-6) on their season-long 10-game road trip, Johnny Damon hinted that the team as a whole could use a little more of that attribute that Schilling, admittedly, was lacking.

''It's going to be a fun ride," Damon said, referring to the club's closing 37 games, 25 of which will be played within Fenway Park's warm embrace. ''We as players have to remember we have to enjoy this. You don't come across teams like this often, that won the World Series together.

''This is the last year a bunch of guys are going to play together. We can't just be so uptight about everything."

Damon figures that home, where the Sox are a major league-best 38-18, should be of a great benefit to a team that struggled through Detroit and Kansas City, going 2-4 vs. the teams at the bottom of the AL Central Division. The series loss here marked the Sox' first to the Royals since 1997.

The overriding reason?

''Just not hitting with guys in scoring position," Damon said. ''It falls to our hitters."

A number of Sox struggled offensively on the junket. David Ortiz, who needed a rest last night, both mentally and physically (he bruised his left hand Wednesday), went 8 for 39 (.205) on the trip. Gabe Kapler, after a scintillating start to his Red Sox Reunion Tour, went 3 for 26 (.115). Tony Graffanino, 0 for 9 in his first two games back in Kansas City, went 6 for 28 (.214). And the catalyst, Damon, went 10 for 44 (.227).

''What we really need is for me to get hot and stay hot," Damon said. ''When I go, this team really takes off."

Last night, though, it was Schilling's difficulties that thrust the Sox into an early deficit. Boston trailed, 3-0, after two innings, 4-0 after three, and 6-2 after four, the Royals well on their way to a 12-hit night.

The Sox staged two mini rallies -- scoring two in the fourth on consecutive RBI doubles by Bill Mueller and Alex Cora, and two more in the sixth, on a Jason Varitek run-scoring double and a Cora fielder's choice. But Jose Lima (5-12, 6.43 ERA) pitched well enough for the win (5 IP, 5 H, 3 ER).

''The guy hasn't started since, what, April 23?" said Lima. ''And he goes out and throws like that. He's their horse. Another start for him, stretch him six or seven innings, and he'll be on. They need him for September. Because there, he's awesome."

A return to Fenway should help both Schilling and the Sox, as the club hosts 14 consecutive games before going on the road again, to Yankee Stadium. The Yankees won yesterday, pulling within 2 1/2 games, representing the smallest Sox lead since Aug. 1.

The Sox, though, are still a team in transition, even as September rapidly approaches. On this trip, Schilling got a new job (he comes home a starting pitcher, not a closer). Papelbon changed jobs. So did Mike Timlin (now the interim closer). And the changes are not complete. Rosters expand Sept. 1, when Manny Delcarmen will be added to the mix once again as the Sox continually attempt to find out how their bullpen will look come the postseason (if there is one).

Papelbon pitched two innings last night -- the seventh and eighth -- surrendering two hits and the one run.

''Papelbon could very well be the best pitcher we have right now, our best starter," Damon said. ''Delcarmen is our best arm."

And that, right there, might be the reason for the ''uptight" feeling Damon describes. Jobs are open to be won and lost, the same time games must be won.

The Red Sox landed in Boston early this morning (ETA was 4:20 a.m.) having completed an arduous 11 days of travel and baseball. They landed knowing they do not have to venture outside of the Eastern Time Zone again in the regular season.

But that means games against the AL East: 26 of the final 37. With a division to win.

''We could be better," Damon said. ''We've had many ups and downs. If we can enjoy this game, not look over our shoulders, and know this is a team that can go forward with us, that's a great feeling.

''We're still fine-tuning. We've got past the dog days. This was the end of the dog days."

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