FORT MYERS, Fla. -- "He Ain't Heavy, He's My Stopper."
That's the tune citizens of Red Sox Nation could have been humming after Curt Schilling's two innings in the inaugural game of the 2007 spring training season last night.
Miffed that his contract extension request was rejected by management, clearly overweight after an offseason attending to business ventures, Schilling was the strike machine Sox fans have come to love in his first Grapefruit League outing. Fifteen of his 19 pitches went for strikes as he allowed two hits and no runs. He even managed to look pretty nimble covering first base on a grounder to the right side.
"I felt a little stronger than I thought I would, which was nice," said Schilling. "But this was not even close to stretching it out. I would have liked to have kept going, but we have a lot of guys here who need innings."
"He tried to establish his fastball," said manager Terry Francona. "It looked to me like his first outing. I know he probably wanted to throw more pitches, but I just don't think it's worth it."
It was the Opening Night of the exhibition season -- Boston's 15th spring training here -- and the first game of the annual Mayor's Cup competition with the Twins, who also train in Fort Myers. The Twins have won the coveted cup each of the last two springs and keep it displayed in a prominent spot in their Hammond Stadium clubhouse.
The Twins, who beat the Red Sox five times in six outings last spring, brought the Mayor's Cup with them on their bus last night. The 10-inning, 4-4 tie gives the Twins a leg up on this year's competition. They need to win only two of the remaining four contests with the Sox to retain the Cup.
"We might have to saw that thing in half," said Francona. "It's eluded us."
It was 73 degrees at game time and the newly expanded stands were packed at City of Palms Park.
Taking the mound, Schilling warmed up, turned toward center field for his traditional pregame prayer, then wheeled around to face Twins second baseman Luis Castillo. The Minnesota infielder was way behind several Schilling serves before grounding to short.
"I was nervous and short of breath," said Schilling. "That's the way it is whether I'm facing Northwestern or the Yankees. It's competing."
Minnesota right fielder Jason Tyner was next and popped up the first pitch (gloved in foul territory by Jason Varitek). Joe Mauer, who finished sixth in American League MVP voting in 2006, ended the inning by grounding an 0-and-2 split-fingered fastball to first baseman Kevin Youkilis. Schilling got over to cover first base. He threw only nine pitches in the first inning, eight for strikes. The final pitch to Mauer was his only non-fastball of the evening.
Rondell White broke up Schilling's no-hitter with a first-pitch single to center in the second, but most of the Twins' hitters had trouble getting around on the 40-year-old ace. Torii Hunter and Matthew
Schilling got out of the mini-jam, inducing another grounder to the right side.
Done for the night, he walked off. Schilling did not stare in the direction of the owner's box.
Interviewed while the Twins and Sox were playing the fifth inning, Schilling wore a hat and T-shirt with logos promoting his new company. He said he wanted to be ace of the Red Sox' staff, but not on reputation. On merit.
"There's going to be a lot of competition on this staff," he said. "In a good way. This has a chance to be one of those staffs that is very special. There's a lot of things I'm anxious to see. Josh Beckett is flying under the radar and I think he's going to stun people."
Schilling fielded several questions about Daisuke Matsuzaka and said, "I think they're trying to get us all out of the way so Daisuke Matsuzaka can pitch. We're all waiting for that. I know I am."
Matsuzaka is scheduled to pitch against Boston College tomorrow night at City of Palms Park. In the meantime, Sheriff Schill is still in town.
Dan Shaughnessy can be reached at email@example.com.