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RED SOX 6, DEVIL RAYS 4

Schilling's 200th doesn't come easy

Red Sox ace reaches milestone by stopping Devil Rays

He was by no means unhittable, but he was unbeatable.

Add unforgettable, as well.

As ordinary as last night's 6-4 win over Tampa Bay was before 36,409, including a happy and supportive family who watched from a vacant radio booth in the press box, Curt Schilling's 200th win in 392 starts and 525 games will not soon be forgotten. On a warm and humid night at Fenway Park, he started sluggishly and finished strong.

Schilling, who has an American League-leading eight wins this season, certainly had his gritty moments, but he was able to use a few bullets he had stored away for all of the appropriate times.

He would later thank relievers Keith Foulke and Jonathan Papelbon for clinching his milestone win.

Schilling was called back by the large crowd after Papelbon had secured the final out to chants of ``We want Curt! We want Curt!" Schilling obliged with an appearance and wave of his cap moments later.

``They told me it was quite loud outside," Schilling said. ``I got a chance to go out and then I saw [wife] Shonda and the kids with signs, which was very cool. Today was my son's 11th birthday and the only thing he asked me for was my 200th win, which was probably more pressure than anything I could think of."

Of course, preserving milestones can also make for pressure. Players through the years have commented on how difficult it is to save the day for a pitcher ready to hit a big career number.

Papelbon had no such worries, however.

``I didn't even think about it," said Papelbon, who notched his 18th straight save to start the season. ``I'm glad to have been a part of it. But you can't let that enter your thinking. There's enough pressure on you without putting that on your shoulders. I'm glad I was able to do it for our team and happy that Curt got his win. That's quite an accomplishment."

There were some gritty moments, for sure.

In the fifth inning, for instance, after Schilling had allowed two runs and a runner was on third with one out, he got the dangerous Carl Crawford to pop out weakly to short left to third baseman Mike Lowell, and then challenged Toby Hall with a 94-mile-per-hour fastball up and in that Hall couldn't catch up to for strike three.

``I thought that was the critical moment," said Devil Rays manager Joe Maddon. ``At that point it could have gone a little bit in our favor. Once he got out of that, he started gaining momentum and pitching better."

Schilling joined Chuck Finley and George Uhle in a tie for 102d place on the all-time wins list.

But last night Schilling was just trying to keep his head above water, fighting to keep the lead his offense had accrued against Devil Rays starter Seth McClung.

It was really a perfect night for Schilling to hit a milestone, at home, where he brought a 1.86 ERA into the game. Schilling certainly didn't want the quest for 200 to drag into another start, or have it become the Schilling Watch, and the Sox tried to give him an early cushion.

On a night when Kevin Youkilis played left field in place of Manny Ramírez, who was resting a stiff back, and when Wily Mo Peña was a late scratch with a recurring sore left wrist, the Sox went out to a 1-0 lead when Youkilis and Mark Loretta found themselves in scoring position after a single and double, respectively, with no outs in the first. David Ortiz got Youkilis in with a sacrifice fly to left.

``I was just hoping we could score some runs for him," said Youkilis, who reached base four times with a pair of hits and two walks. ``It was great to be out there. It was such a great experience for him."

Schilling, who had a 1-2-3 first inning (batters are 4 for 37 against him in the first), retired Aubrey Huff to start the second, but then his location failed him. There was a double to center by Ty Wigginton, followed by another double off the wall in center by Greg Norton, tying the score. After a long fly ball to center by Travis Lee, catcher Josh Paul delivered a single to left, giving the Devil Rays a 2-1 lead.

But the Sox struck back against the hard-throwing McClung for four runs in the bottom half. The rally began with J.T. Snow's single to right. It hit a lull when Alex Cora flew out to center and Willie Harris reached on a fielder's choice, eliminating Snow. But Harris stole second and suddenly there was a second wind to the rally. Youkilis patiently drew a walk before Loretta stroked a single to right, bobbled by right fielder Norton as Harris scored and the runners moved up to second and third.

Maddon did what any manager would do in this situation: With first base open, he ordered an intentional pass to Ortiz. Good strategy, perhaps, but as often happens, the next hitter delivered. In this case, Trot Nixon got a nice inside-out swing on a fastball that he pounded against the left-center-field wall, scoring a pair. Ortiz eventually scored on a McClung wild pitch, making it 5-2.

``I had to do that," said Maddon of the intentional walk. ``It was the right thing to do, but then [Nixon] gets the double. It was a high fastball that hit right at the wall.

``Given the same set of circumstances, I would do the same thing again."

But Schilling struggled again in the fifth. The Nos. 7, 8, and 9, batters all reached base -- Lee on a single, Paul with a double, and Joey Gathright with another double that brought both runners in. This is when an extra gear seemed to kick into Schilling's performance.

After getting three outs to escape further trouble in the fifth, he struck out the side in the sixth, challenging Huff and Wigginton with 95-m.p.h. fastballs and winning. He allowed a single to Norton, but finished by fanning Lee on a splitter.

Schilling entered averaging 109.4 pitches per start, which topped the American League, and had allowed only 1.2 walks per nine innings, also an AL best. Schilling, who threw 111 pitches, didn't walk anyone in his seven-inning stint and finished strong, a pair of fly balls to left, a single by Julio Lugo, and then a ground out to end his outing.

He came off the mound to a standing ovation, pointed to his family in the press box, and then waved his cap to the adoring crowd.

He was hittable, but on this night, unbeatable.

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