|Curt Schilling, who has pitched 14 straight shutout innings, attempts to catch Howie Kendrick napping at first. (BARRY CHIN/GLOBE STAFF)|
Schilling commands spotlight
He limits Angels to 4 hits in eight shutout innings
So, this is what he meant.
Curt Schilling, back before the disastrous Opening Day start in Kansas City, before the gem in Texas, had talked about efficiency during spring training, about pitching to contact, about utilizing his newly integrated changeup in order to limit his pitch counts and last longer in games, rather than ring up high strikeout numbers and shorter stays.
And that was what he did yesterday.
With a ninth-inning assist from Brendan Donnelly, a scorched liner to center field by Jason Varitek (resulting in a Gary Matthews Jr. error and two runs), and four RBIs from David Ortiz, Schilling controlled the Angels as the Sox rolled, 8-0, in front of 36,300 at Fenway Park.
Against an aggressive lineup -- including Vladimir Guerrero, the most swing-happy Angel of them all -- Schilling mixed his pitches well in going eight shutout innings for the first time since Sept. 21, 2004.
"There are counts and situations where I used to be a four-seam fastball guy and maybe that's not the best pitch anymore," Schilling said. "If it's not going to be a fastball, it's still got to be a strike when you're behind in the count. That's where the changeup, the curveball, and the slider come in.
"Today, they made a lot of early outs. We knew they'd be aggressive. It's a very aggressive lineup top to bottom, but you've got to locate to make that work."
Which he did, demonstrating the pitcher he wants (or needs) to become. He kept his pitch count down. Schilling got out of innings with ground balls or fly outs, not with strikeouts, of which he claimed just four. He walked one.
Not that Schilling needed to be so good on a day when the Angels subbed Hector Carrasco for original starter Kelvim Escobar, who was placed on the 15-day disabled list Friday with irritation in his pitching shoulder. Not when it took just two innings for Carrasco to throw 45 pitches, a total Schilling reached in the fifth.
He got through his best battle, with Jose Molina in the seventh , in 11 pitches, the final one a 93-mile-per-hour fastball that left him with enough gas -- and enough room in his pitch count -- to come out for the eighth, though even that was in question after a 28-pitch seventh. He had a short leash in the eighth, but retired the Angels 1-2-3.
"He threw strikes, he stayed out of the middle, and he really stayed out of a certain area or a pattern the whole day," manager Terry Francona said. "Changed locations, changed speeds, changed pitches on all the hitters right from the beginning, and didn't give anybody the same look or fall into a pattern. Did a great job with that."
It was a dominating performance that didn't feel like vintage Schilling domination. There weren't the strikeouts or the drama. There was just efficiency, and eight innings that left the Sox starter with a slim 2.84 ERA after allowing just four hits.
"He utilized a lot of, well, basically five of his pitches," Varitek said. "That was big. We had a good mix of a lot of different looks."
And though Francona was hardly willing to allow that his offense might have started to heat up, the bats turned in another performance that should send them in the right direction once the weather begins to warm -- or they reach a climate-controlled environment.
Eric Hinske, who had been spending most of his time on the bench, broke out in his first start of the season. Leading off the third, Hinske tripled off the Wall near the 379-foot marker in left-center, the ball caroming away from Matthews. After outs by Ortiz and Manny Ramírez, Carrasco walked J.D. Drew (intentionally) and Mike Lowell, and watched the struggling Varitek scorch a liner off the heel of Matthews's glove to score two runs.
It was all Schilling would need, though the Sox scored another run in the fourth, two more in the sixth, and three on an Ortiz home run in the eighth, on a ball the designated hitter sent off the black fabric in the center-field bleachers .
Schilling, meanwhile, was not allowing an Angel to advance farther than second base -- reached twice by Orlando Cabrera and once by Howie Kendrick. He was calming the Angels' bats, and thinking about going the distance.
"At the end of the day," Schilling said, "going back out for the ninth would have been me trying to get a shutout as opposed to me trying to make 33 or 34 starts and be as healthy as I can be for every one."
That wasn't going to work for Francona. Schilling already had done his job.
"I think good pitchers smell wins, and I think Schill has been like that for a long time," Francona said. "I mean, that's why you have guys like that on your ball club. They know how to win games."
Amalie Benjamin can be reached at email@example.com.