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Schilling comes up aces; Gonzalez provides punch

The proclamation, in content, was bold, but in tone it was merely matter of fact, suggesting that Curt Schilling genuinely believes what he said last night. No Schilling hyperbole. No grandstanding. No bravado. No veneer concealing something less. It was a statement of fact, pure and simple. And one to which Curt Schilling will be held for the remainder of this season.

''Feel good, feel healthy," Schilling said last night. ''Feel like I'm better than I've ever been."

Allow that one to linger.

''I have a slider now, I have a changeup, I'm pitching in drastically more than ever in my career," the veteran righthander continued. ''And I think the numbers are showing it."

Want numbers? Schilling, despite age (39), rain, and a capable Seattle lineup, masterfully maneuvered through eight innings last night. The Mariners touched him for three hits. It should have been four, but the big righthander barehanded a bounding Ichiro Suzuki shot up the middle in the fourth inning. (''Stuck out his big paw," Jason Varitek noted.) He fanned seven (including the side in order in the second) and walked none. In three starts, he is 3-0 with a 1.64 ERA. In 22 innings, he's allowed only 11 hits and 14 base runners.

The best number of all? His team won by a 2-1 score last night for the third time this season, before 36,431 at a wet Fenway Park. Last year? The Sox, in 25 games in which they scored two runs or fewer, went 3-22.

''That's a momentum builder, to help your offense," Varitek said.

''A nice way to win a ballgame," in the opinion of manager Terry Francona.

For much of the night, Schilling was locked in an old-school pitcher's battle, with an emphasis on the old (Jamie Moyer is 43). Moyer, it seems, has a lot in common with real estate. With both, there's only one thing that really matters.

''Location, location, location," Varitek said.

Moyer, who at this rate stands a chance of someday having his uniform number (50) and age intersect, threw the slowest average fastball in the American League last year, at 81.8 miles per hour, according to Bill James. And, in going 13-7, Moyer threw an astounding 1,169 pitches slower than 80 m.p.h.

Moyer's slow fastballs were exactly the salve at least one Sox batter needed. The Nos. 1-8 batters went 5 for 23 (.218) with 8 Ks against Moyer. The No. 9 hitter went 3 for 3, with two scorched doubles and two RBIs.

''Pitches in the middle, inside, that's my place," Alex Gonzalez said before last night's game. ''I'm a pull hitter. But balls are beating me [inside] because I have a long swing."

Moyer, however, wasn't going to beat Gonzalez's bat to those inside spots. In the second inning, Gonzalez, who entered the evening 1 for his last 19, worked the count to 3 and 1 and hammered a double into the left-field corner. In the fourth, his No. 9 spot came up again, this time with Mike Lowell (single) and Dustan Mohr (ripped double off the ''310" sign in left) in scoring position.

Gonzalez, ahead in the count again, this time 2 and 1, launched an 81-m.p.h. Moyer fastball halfway up the wall in left-center. Lowell scored, Mohr scored, and Gonzalez downshifted into second, where he emphatically clapped his hands.

''I was excited," Gonzalez said, spreading a rare postgame smile after he'd raised his average from .167 to .235.

That would be the only offense the Sox would muster, but it would be enough for Schilling.

He put away the Mariners in order in the first, second, fourth, seventh, and eighth innings. He was economical in the third (seven pitches) and fourth (eight), giving himself a chance to go eight. He was positively electric in the second, which apparently wasn't a coincidence.

''Warming up for the second inning, I threw my split-finger and it clicked," Schilling said. ''The angle, it was exactly what I wanted it to be."

He then struck out the side in order. He fanned Richie Sexson on three pitches, the last a splitter. He blew one past Adrian Beltre at 94 m.p.h. And he finished Carl Everett with a fastball at 92.

Against Suzuki, Seattle's best hitter (by reputation, not by 2006 statistics), Schilling simply willed himself to outdo the slick Japanese right fielder. In the fourth, Suzuki sent a bouncer back up the middle, where Schilling stuck out his bare right hand and snared it. Was his skipper cringing to see that hand exposed?

''I think I'd cringe more," Francona said, ''if Ichiro's on first because you know he's going to steal second."

Suzuki and Schilling met again in the pivotal sixth. Jeremy Reed, whom the Sox targeted this winter when they were in need of a center fielder, doubled to right and advanced to third on Yuniesky Betancourt's grounder to short.

Up came Suzuki, with a man 90 feet away and one out. Schilling threw a high fastball for a ball. Ichiro fouled two back. Schilling threw another fastball high. Suzuki shot a pitch foul. Then Schilling threw a beautiful splitter, at 85 m.p.h. down and away, diving late, that the lefthanded-hitting Suzuki waved at. Schilling then left Reed on third, by blowing a 94-m.p.h. heater past No. 2 hitter Jose Lopez.

After eight, Schilling had thrown 104 pitches and surely some in the park wondered if he would force his way back out for the ninth.

''No," Francona said. ''We knew when he went out for the eighth that would be his last inning."

And so it was Jonathan Papelbon's turn again. He faced four batters and ended it in 13 pitches for his fifth save. But no, he said, it's not as easy as it looks.

''It's definitely not," said Papelbon, who has allowed only two hits in 20 at-bats.

But he made it look simple, especially when he set up Suzuki with a splitter for strike two and dispensed of him, swinging, at heat. He'd watched Schilling most of the night and realized he could attack Suzuki and the Mariners much like Schilling had. Kind of like a golfer reading another golfer's line.

''A very good analogy," Papelbon said.

And a very good night.

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