Death and taxes aside, Curt Schilling's trips to the mound at Fenway Park had become one of life's certainties. Ten times this season, Schilling had climbed the little hill on the emerald lawn in the Fens, and 10 times the Red Sox had departed winners.
No more. After the Sox staged a rousing comeback from a 7-4 deficit powered by a memorable three-homer game by Kevin Millar, the Yankees ended the streak as Gary Sheffield and Alex Rodriguez cracked consecutive hits off the Green Monster against recently embattled closer Keith Foulke in the ninth inning to break a 7-7 deadlock and steal an 8-7 victory before 34,933 at Fenway Park.
"It's highly frustrating because the ball club's trying to scrap and get back in this thing," Foulke said. "I can't express to you how disappointed I am."
The defeat dropped the Sox 9 1/2 games behind the AL East-leading Yankees, dangerously close to the largest deficit they have overcome to win the division, 10 games in 1988. The loss also overshadowed an impressive night of redemption for Millar, who scored a measure of revenge against his nagging critics with his first three-homer game.
Millar, who mustered only five homers in his first 85 games, has hit five in his last three. He became only the second Sox player to homer three times in a game against the Yankees, joining Mo Vaughn, who accomplished the feat May 30, 1997. But he was left to marvel at the Yankees.
"Their lineup's ridiculous," Millar said. "Sheffield's at-bat off Foulke was unbelievable. [Alex Rodriguez] gets a big hit to get them ahead. They just keep coming at you."
Foulke, who had blown four of his previous seven save opportunities, was unable to extend the 7-7 standoff as he surrendered a one-out double high off the Wall on a changeup to Sheffield and a single off the bottom of the scoreboard on a fastball to A-Rod. Never mind that both balls may have been outs in many other parks. Foulke has surrendered runs in four of his last six appearances and is 1-3 with as many blown saves (five) as saves since he started the season 1-0 with 10 straight saves. But he made no excuses.
"I'm in a terrible rut," he said. "Every time I go out there I'm giving up at least one run. There's no question about it, I'm not happy with the way I'm throwing the ball."
After the Sox were jarred by the go-ahead run in the ninth, they were unable to counter against Yankees ubercloser Mariano Rivera as Manny Ramirez flied out, Nomar Garciaparra (who turned 31 yesterday) grounded out, and Trot Nixon popped out in foul territory.
The defeat dropped the Sox to 37-38 over their last 75 games after they started the season 15-6.
"Every loss to me is huge," manager Terry Francona said. "They all hurt. We're just trying so desperately to get on the right track and win a game we're not supposed, just win a game."
The final drama unfolded after Schilling endured his worst outing in the Hub since he returned to the Sox 18 years after the club dealt him away as a Double A farmhand. No opponent had scored more than four runs against him at Fenway until the Yankees safely touched the plate seven times on 10 hits and a pair of walks over 5 1/3 innings.
He was all but disconsolate afterward, his head bowed in the dugout as he sat alone before pitching coach Dave Wallace put his hands on his shoulders and encouraged him to forge ahead.
"This was a game where the box score will show Keith Foulke with a loss, but this game falls right on top of me," Schilling said. "This was a game we should have won."
He was particularly upset about contributing to a loss in which the Sox seemed to raise their energy level and flashed some of the resiliency that has seemed lacking at times this season.
"These guys did everything that everyone's been bitching about them not doing all year," Schilling said. "For me to trip and fall down in a game like this, it's inexcusable, it's incredibly disappointing. They did everything they had to do against probably the best bullpen in the game. This should have been a walkaway win and it wasn't."
After Schilling breezed through the first four innings and started the fifth with a 4-1 lead, the Yankees wore him down with their tenacity, forcing him to throw 56 pitches to secure four outs. They scored once in the fifth and chased him with a barrage of seeing-eye grounders before he could record a second out in the sixth inning on their way to scoring five more times, sticking the Sox in a 7-4 hole.
"My ineptness and their good at-bats in those two innings were the game in my mind," he said.
Trailing, 7-5, after Millar's second blast of the game, the Sox rallied in the seventh inning, with Johnny Damon lacing a single to center leading off and Jason Varitek doubling him home to make it 7-6. They had chances to tie it in the seventh, but after David Ortiz walked, Ramirez bounced into a double play, sending Varitek to third. Then Tom Gordon drilled Garciaparra with a pitch, putting runners at the corners, before Nixon lined out to the warning track in left.
Still, the Sox persevered. Millar scorched the first pitch of the eighth inning, a 94-mile-per-hour heater from Gordon, off the Sports Authority sign above the Monster to force the tie. Moments later, the Sox seemed poised to seize the lead when they put runners at second and third with one out as Bill Mueller reached on a throwing error by first baseman Tony Clark, Mark Bellhorn bounced into a fielder's choice, and Damon doubled. But Gordon slammed the door by striking out Varitek and Ortiz, clearing the way for New York's decisive rally in the ninth.
"We're battling," Varitek said. "We just need to find a way to battle all the way through."