The way Keith Foulke looks at it, he is not working his way back to closing. Rather, he's working his way back to being an efficient pitcher, and yesterday, after a lengthy period of inertia, he moved in that direction.
''Going out and getting people out on a regular basis is my main concern," Foulke said. ''I felt like I did that. Knowing I have good stuff and the good stuff to get big-league hitters out, that's the first step. And today it was a step in the right direction."
Foulke entered in relief of Curt Schilling with the Sox behind, 4-0, two aboard, and one out in the Chicago seventh. Coming up: Carl Everett (.261, 22 HRs, 80 RBIs) and Paul Konerko (.278, 34 HRs, 85 RBIs).
Foulke retired both, stranding the runners. He threw a changeup (77 miles per hour), fastball (86), and changeup (77) to Everett, striking him out on three pitches.
''He's got a little more drive," said catcher Jason Varitek, comparing Foulke's delivery and changeup before and after arthroscopic knee surgery. ''His changeup's better. That, to me, is huge for him. He was able to throw it any time he wanted to.
''When he's able to drive off like he is, [the changeup] comes out at you and then slows down."
Foulke got Konerko to ground to third to end the seventh. He returned for the eighth and hit the first batter, Aaron Rowand, with a changeup. But he came back to record three consecutive outs.
His fastball peaked at 88 twice, but generally came in at 86 or 87. His changeup routinely sat on 77. He mixed in three sliders.
''I was a lot happier walking off the mound today than I have been in previous outings," Foulke said. ''It's been a constant battle to work on mechanics. I liked how I threw the ball today. Not where I want to be, but it was much better than it has been."
And, closing, is that on his mind?
''You need to talk to the guy in the other office about that," Foulke said, motioning toward Terry Francona's office. ''I'm sure they were just as encouraged about it today as I was. We'll see how the next couple days go."
Kelly Shoppach caught in yesterday's PawSox season finale, marking his first appearance since spraining his left ankle while blocking home plate Aug. 30 in Ottawa. Shoppach (.253, 26 HRs, 75 RBIs) went 0 for 1 and held up fine. He's expected to join the Sox today, along with reliever Manny Delcarmen. Delcarmen pitched the last inning of the PawSox season, walking two. Pawtucket, which missed the playoffs, lost, 6-0, yesterday but closed the season with wins in 12 of 16 games to finish above .500 (75-69) . . . Schilling went 6 1/3 innings, halting at two the Sox' streak of starting pitchers going at least eight innings (Matt Clement pitched eight Saturday, David Wells Sunday). The last time Sox starters worked eight innings three consecutive days: Aug. 26-28, 1996. The pitchers: Tim Wakefield, Roger Clemens, and Tom Gordon. The opponent: The California Angels, who since have changed their name twice . . . Bill Mueller, who'd started 14 consecutive games, received a day off yesterday. The third baseman was 2 for his last 14 since his 14-game hitting streak (.368, 21 for 57) came to a close. ''That's why we sit him every once in a while, so he can play at maximum effort and maximum production all the time," Francona said. ''It's worked out very well." . . . Manny Ramirez's major league-leading outfield assist total reached 14. But Everett deserved an assist of his own on the play. Everett singled off the Wall with two outs in the ninth and Chicago comfortably ahead, 5-0. He dogged it out of the box, jogged around first, and slid, with next to no chance, into second, where he was thrown out . . . The Sox won the season series vs. Chicago, 4-3 . . . The alarming stat of the day: the Sox are 11-40 when scoring fewer than five runs . . . Schilling's fourth-inning strikeout of Everett was the 2,804th of his career, moving him past Cy Young and into 17th place on the all-time list.
Craig Hansen is long tossing at 90 feet up in Portland. The 21-year-old righthander, who was shut down for a week and a half with a mild case of dead arm, has to rebuild some arm strength before throwing off a mound. There is no timetable for that move, making the possibility of Hansen helping the Sox this year increasingly unlikely . . . Provided Jaret Wright takes his usual turn this week, the probables for this weekend's Sox-Yankees series shape up as: David Wells vs. Aaron Small Friday; Schilling vs. Shawn Chacon Saturday; and Wakefield vs. Randy Johnson Sunday. The Sox never have faced Small, and no Sox starter has more than two career at-bats against Chacon . . . Double A Portland's best-of-five Eastern League playoff series vs. Trenton begins tomorrow at Portland. The starters for Games 1-3: Jon Lester, Anibal Sanchez, and David Pauley . . . The Sox finished the season 22-13 vs. the AL Central. They are 65-38 against the Central since the beginning of 2003 . . . Recall the words of Johnny Damon, following Friday's loss to 24-year-old Orioles righthander John Maine: ''It seems like these young guys pitching are tough on us. We're guessing a little more." Including Brandon McCarthy's seven shutout innings yesterday, the Sox have faced 10 starting pitchers this season in those pitchers' Fenway debut. Those pitchers are 3-3, with a 3.56 ERA . . . Tonight from 5:30-6 p.m., David Ortiz and Tony Graffanino will be available for photos with fans who donate at least $100 to the Red Sox' Hurricane Relief Effort. The players will be in Autograph Alley (just inside Gate A). Sox fans have donated more than $100,000 at Fenway. The relief effort will continue through Sunday. All money will be donated to the Red Cross Disaster Relief Fund.