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ON BASEBALL

A day when 1 was the loneliest number

KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- He could not have felt any worse than Jose Contreras of the White Sox did after giving up eight runs in one inning-plus. Or Cubs ace Carlos Zambrano, negotiating a mega-million-dollar extension and getting tagged for six hits, five runs, and five walks by the Reds.

He probably didn't pitch any worse than reigning National League Cy Young Award winner Brandon Webb (eight hits, five runs in five innings, though Arizona beat the Rockies). He could not have looked any more anguished than Derek Lowe of the Dodgers in allowing eight hits and six runs in four innings, or Carl Pavano of the Yankees, or Chris Carpenter of the Cardinals the night before.

Add Curt Schilling to the No. 1 Starter/Opening Day Stinker Club -- four innings, five runs, eight hits -- but understand that this wasn't Los Angeles or Chicago or Arizona or St. Louis. It was Opening Day for the Red Sox, and there always will be panic when the ace, the World Series hero, pitches as though he doesn't have a clue.

The jokes began early from e-mailers and the peanut gallery, suggesting that Schilling had a finger cramp from blogging too much or his vision was off after hours on the laptop. Someone said Dice-K might be the team's new No. 1 starter before all is said and done. I even heard a guy suggest that Schilling's stomach was getting in the way of his follow-through.

Of course, it was Red Sox adviser Bill James, in attendance for yesterday's 7-1 loss, whose 2007 Handbook projected Schill to win 12 games.

Schilling looked every day of his 40 years, but it is on days like this -- which have been few and far between in his career -- that you begin to blame the age, the blog, all of the things you shouldn't blame after one lousy outing.

It's funny how Schilling drew rave reviews for his spring training work from Terry Francona, who lauded him for being as mentally and physically prepared as he's been in years, yet when the bell rang he laid an egg.

It's one game and no biggie. Right?

The Royals, to some degree, have his number. He hasn't pitched well against this team in this ballpark. Last August he allowed 10 extra-base hits in a 5-4 loss to the Royals and yesterday he allowed five runs with two outs.

The most stunning thing was walking Ryan Shealy with the bases loaded. This is a guy with the best walk ratio (1.24/9 innings) in the majors last season. It was an 86-m.p.h. something or other that dipped low of the zone. It didn't seem like a pitch he would throw on 3-and-2 normally. But nothing was normal.

Mark Grudzielanek, who had hit .185 against Schilling in 65 at-bats, stroked three hits and knocked in three runs on mistake pitches that Schilling kept leaving over the plate.

"When I looked back at my at-bats against him in the past, I was way too aggressive," Grudzielanek said. "We made him work and made him throw strikes. He wasn't getting his off-speed over, so we laid off it, were very patient with it out of the strike zone."

Schilling said there was absolutely nothing he could take out of this game. And trying to over-analyze it on a blog probably wouldn't be productive, either.

"No fastball command," he said. "I did not adjust. I can't remember that ever being the case.

"I knew early on I wasn't commanding my fastball. I never made the adjustment. It was very disappointing. As a starting pitcher, you can make your team look a lot worse than it is some days. This was absolutely one of those days.

"I just made mistake after mistake and I compounded those mistakes. All five runs I gave up were with two outs. I had chances. I just didn't execute."

He threw 33 pitches in the first inning and had tossed 56 through two. He retired the side in order in the third, but whatever he did, he lost it in the fourth when he allowed a double to John Buck, walked No. 9 hitter Tony Pena Jr., and Grudzielanek delivered a two-run double over J.D. Drew's head in right. Adjust, Curt, adjust. He didn't. Mark Teahen stroked a single for the fifth run.

"I didn't have as good command warming up with my fastball, but I never worry about stuff like that," he said. "But I let it carry over. One thing I always preach with the young guys is the ability to make a mistake on a pitch and come back and adjust on the very next pitch. I think I did that once today.

"It's been a long time since I haven't gotten through five," said Schilling, whose shortest regular-season outing prior to this was May 22, 1997, when he went 2 2/3 innings against the Mets. (We're not counting a two-inning stint against the Padres on July 18, 2001, when a transformer blew in San Diego and the game was suspended.)

"Physically, I felt fine. It was one of those games I did not execute and I did not adjust. It was a struggle and a lot of it was self-inflicted. I was battling myself as much mentally as I did physically."

Not to worry. Zambrano, Lowe, Carpenter, Contreras, Pavano, and Webb were all feeling pretty lousy, too. But of course, this is Boston. In Boston, you're supposed to feel even worse than worse, especially on Opening Day.

Today will be a long off-day. And it will be a long time until Sunday, the next time Schilling can make Red Sox Nation feel OK about him again. But he had that look in his eyes, that he was looking forward to fixing it.

Nick Cafardo can be reached at cafardo@globe.com

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