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BOB RYAN

Message hits home: No room for error

One hanging splitter . . . one fly ball that simply must be caught . . . one more lost opportunity. And then the news from New York?

It was a bad night for anyone who cares about the fortunes of the Boston Red Sox.

Curt Schilling didn't pull a Beckett. He pitched well enough to win a lot of games, just not this game, against this team, when his own team is not swinging the bat. He was one pitch away from pitching a certified gem, but that one pitch made all the difference, and when you get to this point in a pennant race, you only care about results.

Detroit 3, Boston 2 -- that was the result. New York 6, Baltimore 3 -- that was another result, and we won't mention that the Yankees trailed, 3-0, as they went to bat in the sixth, or that Johnny Damon tied it with a two-run homer and then put New York ahead with a double.

I told you it was an all-around bad night if you care about the fortunes of the Boston Red Sox.

The pitch Schilling wishes he had back was an 0-and-1 delivery to Sean Casey with men on first and second and no one out in the seventh. Casey drilled it on a line in the direction of the Red Sox bullpen, scoring Carlos Guillen (bloop single to left) and Pudge Rodriguez (single through the hole) ahead of him.

There is nothing shocking about Sean Casey getting a big hit. He's a .300 lifetime hitter the Tigers were able to obtain at the trading deadline. He's been an All-Star.

``He's a professional hitter," pointed out Detroit manager Jim Leyland. ``He's got a lifetime three-oh-something. He's just a good hitter. He moves the ball all over the place. He can hit to all fields. He puts the ball in play."

In other words, if you hang a splitter, the chances are very good he's going to punish you.

That wasn't the end of Casey's contributions with the bat. In the ninth inning, Leyland asked him to execute a hit-and-run with Guillen on first (leadoff walk), and he deftly hit the ball through the hole off Mike Timlin. That put men on first and third in a 2-2 game. Craig Monroe then hit a short fly ball that came down where the first base stands start to angle out, and right fielder Wily Mo Peña, running hard for a fairly long distance, was unable to hold onto the ball.

It could have been an error, but it was ruled a single. Single or error, the important thing was that Guillen came home with the winning run. Could Wily Mo have thrown out Guillen, who was coming, regardless? Sure. Maybe. Likely, even. But we'll never know, will we?

You can say that Schilling deserved a better fate than a no-decision, which is fine as long as you acknowledge that the same could be said for Detroit starter Jeremy Bonderman. The Red Sox didn't exactly knock him around when they tied it up in the eighth. Coco Crisp started things off with an infield single to short that only he among all Red Sox regulars could have beaten out. He advanced to second on a Mark Loretta ground out.

Bonderman then found himself removed after 7 2/3 innings of five-hit, one-run ball in order that lefthander Wilfredo Ledezma could face David Ortiz, who had gone 0 for 2 with a walk. It is almost redundant to report that Big Papi tied the game with a solid single to center. Manny Ramírez had a chance for some heroics, but Fernando Rodney got him on a tepid bouncer to third, and that was that for the Boston offense as Todd Jones recorded rocking-chair save No. 33 in the ninth.

Schilling isn't going to be much better than he was in the first three innings, which he negotiated in just 24 pitches.

``We knew going in just how aggressive they were," he reported. ``We really focused pregame on emphasizing some things more so than others, and we executed early. Defensively, we did what we had to do, and I knew coming in that Bonderman was pitching."

The defense included a 6-4-3 double play in the third and a nice diving stop by Kevin Youkilis on a Casey smash in the fourth. Schilling helped himself further by picking off Omar Infante to end the fourth.

Infante also helped Schilling extricate himself from a first-and-third, one-out jam in the fifth when he foolishly tried to score from third on a Placido Polanco chopper after Mike Lowell had bobbled the ball.

At that point, Schilling was leading, 1-0, thanks to a Crisp homer in the third. One-nothing. That was the problem. Actually, Bonderman was the problem.

``I mean, if I could start a major league team with five starting pitchers, he is on my list," lauded Schilling. ``He is one of the best pitchers, and definitely one of the top two or three young pitchers in the game."

So Schilling had no wiggle room when Guillen dinked a perfectly good pitch to short left to lead off the seventh. He had to be perfect, and he wasn't. In an act of complete will, he responded to the one bad pitch he had left for Casey by striking out the next three batters after only having fanned one other man all evening. It was an act of pitching nobility that will forever be buried in the fine print, but it was magnificent, nevertheless.

``To me," he shrugged, ``it was another run and it was over. I had to keep it 2-1."

Yes, there is a lot of baseball to be played, but now the Red Sox are down four in the loss column to the You-Know-Whos, and Schilling is resigned to the idea that he's not going to have many runs to work with from here on out.

``We have to pitch," he said. `We have to outpitch the other team. We'll have our nights when we're gonna score like any other team, but we're gonna have to pitch more consistently and if we don't, we're gonna play golf in October instead of baseball."

The Red Sox have just thrown their two studs at the Tigers. Josh Beckett was bad. Schilling was good. But the results were the same, and it's all pass-fail now.

Bob Ryan is a Globe columnist. His e-mail address is ryan@globe.com.

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