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Aggressive Stewart came out swinging

OAKLAND, Calif. -- Shannon Stewart was looking for guidance as he stepped to the plate. Hoping for a hit -- with two outs in the bottom of the ninth and Curt Schilling's no-hitter on the line -- he peeked over at venerable third base coach Rene Lachemann. But that was a waste of time.

"I went out there, looking at the third base coach, and I was seeing if he wanted me to take," Stewart said. "He didn't look at me. I said, 'You know what, I'm swinging if it's right there.' Either he's going to get me -- or I might get a hit."

Taking the belt-high fastball from Schilling and ripping it into right field, Stewart prompted standing ovations, both in the stands and in the A's clubhouse, for denying Schilling a chunk of history.

Then Mark Ellis popped to second to end a 1-0 victory by the Red Sox on a pitch Ellis called "a good pitch to hit."

"I was excited, because I thought sometimes when a guy is throwing a no-hitter like that and he gives up a hit, everything kind of unravels," Ellis said.

Because of the score, Stewart's hit was more than just a single to break up a no-hitter. It brought the potential winning run to the plate.

Which is why, with Mark Kotsay leading off the ninth, the possibility of a bunt existed. When Schilling nearly pitched a perfect game against the Padres in 2001, catcher Ben Davis bunted for a hit with five outs to go.

Kotsay was on that team. He singled in the ninth, one of three hits off Schilling in that game. But he said he felt "locked in" yesterday and bunting wasn't a consideration, especially with third baseman Mike Lowell playing in on the grass.

Although Diamondbacks manager Bob Brenly criticized the bunt in 2001, A's manager Bob Geren gave his approval had it been used yesterday.

"If that run wasn't the tying or winning run, it's somewhat of an unwritten rule, but being that it was 1-0, no, not at all," said Geren, who added that bunting was up to Kotsay. "If you're a bunter, if that's your game, that's part of it. No problem. That last inning, they were playing up on the grass, potentially looking for one anyway, so it wouldn't have been smart to try one because they were alert to it."

So the A's didn't bunt. But they got the hit anyway. With Jason Varitek calling for a slider, Schilling decided to go fastball, thinking Stewart would be taking. (And he might have been, had Lachemann been looking his way.)

"He was throwing me away the whole game," Stewart said. "I thought I hit the first ball against him pretty well, the second ball was OK, and he had me confused my third at-bat, then the last at-bat, looking away, shoot it out there and got a base hit."

Although the A's complimented Schilling after the game, they acknowledged he wasn't his vintage self. This wasn't a throwback, heat 'em up performance (Schilling had four strikeouts). It was virtuoso, but in a different way.

"It wasn't the normal Schilling," Kotsay said. "I mean, my last at-bat was normal, 93 to 95 [miles per hour] with fastballs. He pitched up a cutter and a two-seamer he was throwing. He kept the ball down in the zone all day.

"I think he threw more offspeed pitches today than I've ever seen from him. He had a great plan -- his plan worked."

For almost all of yesterday. For eight innings and two outs. For everyone, except for Stewart.

"It wasn't like it was electrifying stuff, but it was good enough to get the job [done]," Stewart said. "He's a great pitcher, probably one of the best.

"He's going to go down as one of the greatest pitchers ever -- I might keep that bat."

Amalie Benjamin can be reached at abenjamin@globe.com.

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