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Devil Rays 1, Red Sox 0

All for naught

Schilling shines but Sox can't solve Kazmir

It wasn't long before the "70," left cockeyed by a forceful meeting with Jacoby Ellsbury's back, was tucked back up into its place on the left-field wall. Representing the number of losses Toronto had accrued - and a solid reminder of the dent the Devil Rays placed in the Red Sox' attempt to pick up a half-game on the idle Yankees - the "70" was rammed out of place as Ellsbury vainly tried to snag a drive off the bat of Greg Norton.

Mere inches separated his glove and the ball. But he couldn't grab it, and that led to the only extra-base hit of the game for the Devil Rays, a double that would lead to a 1-0 loss for the Red Sox, who were unable to dent Scott Kazmir.

So, as 36,907 learned that Ellsbury can do just about everything short of magic, their eyes must have lit up at another performance being played out in front of them. Even though the player in question - yes, you, Curt Schilling - wanted no part of that praise.

"No. Not now in September. It's about winning and losing games and I got outpitched," Schilling said. "I hate getting outpitched.

"I compete for a living. That's what I get paid to do. When you get outpitched, it's disappointing, it's frustrating. And, again, it's September.

"When people start talking about magic numbers, that means the season's coming to a close. I want to continue to get better and win games and I didn't do that today."

Yet, just as the Red Sox love watching Josh Beckett's dominance as the season wanes, they must also be buoyed by Schilling's seven-start renaissance over the past five weeks. From a disabled list stint to a shortened leash, six innings or so a pop, Schilling has become consistent enough, steady enough, to inspire confidence as the season winds down.

Though the magic number didn't change, thanks to Kazmir, Schilling allowed just one run, on that double by Norton, plus a sacrifice bunt and a sacrifice fly. And as the offense slumbered, the bullpen produced, and Coco Crisp made another scintillating highlight play (doubling up Delmon Young from the center-field wall in the ninth), Schilling's stingy performance shined as he lowered his ERA over his past seven outings since returning from the disabled list to 3.35.

"He pitched extremely well," said Jason Varitek. "We just did not swing the bats. He found his split today and that was very encouraging. Now he's been able to work on his other pitches, he threw some good changeups, located his fastball well. That was the key.

"He was even better tonight than he was in his last two. He's taking steps."

Red Sox batters, meanwhile, were mostly taking steps back to the dugout. Striking out 13 times - 10 courtesy of Kazmir - the Sox could get no farther than second base, their best chance coming with two on and one out in the seventh. But Ellsbury struck out and Alex Cora grounded into a fielder's choice at third base.

They also had Crisp on second base with two outs, Mike Lowell at bat, and David Ortiz coming out to the on-deck circle to bat for Bobby Kielty, which prompted a raucous ovation. But Lowell struck out swinging against Dan Wheeler, and that was it for the inning.

Against Kazmir, the Red Sox had little chance, with just five hits and two walks over his seven innings.

"He had electric stuff, period," Varitek said. "No two ways about it. You see some of the swings that we're taking, he had tremendous stuff."

Not that the Devil Rays had much more luck against Schilling - or Bryan Corey, Javier Lopez, and Mike Timlin. After Ellsbury couldn't corral Norton's double to lead off the fifth, Dioner Navarro bunted Norton to third and Josh Wilson scored him with a sacrifice fly to right.

But once Schilling got those two outs in the fifth inning, he allowed two more singles, to Akinori Iwamura and Carl Crawford, prompting a visit to the mound by pitching coach John Farrell.

He got out of it with five pitches, the last a 91-mile-per-hour fastball that caused Carlos Pena to swing and miss. It was the fifth and final strikeout of the night for Schilling.

"Schill was very good," manager Terry Francona said. "I thought he stayed in his delivery, didn't have to force anything, commanded very well. He stayed in his location, used his changeup. We get a ball that Ellsbury almost catches, they get a sac fly and it holds up."

Schilling continues to evolve, adjusting to lowered radar gun readings and the need to get contact to keep his pitch count down. He would admit to a bit of improvement there last night. But that was about it. Little else about the outing - at least in his eyes - merited praise.

But those on his team saw reason to be pleased - with definite potential for the rest of the season.

"I hope he feels that way," Francona said. "I think he should. There wasn't a lot of effort . . . in his delivery to make the pitches do what he wanted them to do. And I think that's a great sign."

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

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