BALTIMORE -- The 95-mile-per-hour Curt Schilling fastball Jay Gibbons turned around in the fifth inning for a booming two-run homer had pulled Baltimore all the way back, into a 5-4 lead, after the Orioles had spotted the Red Sox a four-run advantage. Schilling stomped to the dugout at inning's end, agonizing on the bench, tugging at his curly blond mop.
But these being the left-for-dead Orioles, and these being the timely hitting Sox of the last couple weeks (8 wins, 2 losses), surely the sides would get together to save Schilling, who could not save himself.
They did, immediately. The Sox put two men on base on walks in the sixth, and with two outs Mark Loretta tied it on a single to center. David Ortiz, 2 for his previous 14 when he dug in, lined a single to left-center for the decisive counterpunch in last night's 6-5 win before 27,565 at Camden Yards.
''It's a win," said Schilling, who is 6-2 despite a 4.17 ERA. ''It's a win because our bullpen is what it is and offensively we did what we had to do. I had just about zero input on this game other than getting the first 17 outs."
Someday the Red Sox will lose to the Orioles, but yesterday wasn't that day, and it hasn't been that day any of the last 13 times the teams have played.
With this hanging chad of a win, the Sox closed within three of tying the club record for most consecutive victories against one team (16 vs. Chicago in 1966). They did so, as Schilling pointed out, largely because of a bullpen that posted 3 1/3 scoreless innings. The 11 batters Baltimore sent up against the Sox pen went 0 for 10 with a walk.
The walk was issued by journeyman Mike Holtz, who in two previous appearances this season had allowed three runs on three hits, three walks, and a hit batsman while recording four outs. He relieved Schilling with two outs in the sixth, inherited a runner, and walked Nick Markakis.
''I was still trying to do too much, walking that guy," Holtz said.
He got ahead, 0-and-2, on the leadoff hitter, Brandon Fahey, who in his previous at-bat accounted for one of three homers Schilling served up. But the count ran full and Holtz, who comes from all angles, dropped down to throw a sidearm breaking ball. It was chopped to Kevin Youkilis's right. Because of the type of the pitch, and the fact that he's lefthanded, Holtz fell off the mound toward third base.
''And he's lefthanded," Holtz said of the runner.
He knew he'd have to cover the bag, and the race was on.
''I could hear him behind me," Holtz said.
Holtz beat him, narrowly escaping the inning instead of loading the bases.
Mike Timlin, who hadn't pitched since Thursday at New York, could not have looked much sharper. He worked two innings, faced the minimum, and cut through them in just 12 pitches, only one of which was a ball.
''Holtz gets the lefty he needed to, Timlin was tremendous; that kind of calmed the game right down," manager Terry Francona said. ''He was so efficient, he was so crisp."
Jonathan Papelbon followed with a 1-2-3 ninth, marking his 12th 1-2-3 inning in the 20 occasions this year he's begun an inning. It was also his major league-leading 14th save in as many chances.
Schilling reminded the media at his locker of something he said he pointed out in spring training.
''We have a shutdown bullpen," he said.
Baltimore, conversely, does not. Nor does it have shutdown starting pitching or anything close.
In eight games against the Sox this year, Baltimore's starting pitchers have a 12.09 ERA. Bruce Chen lasted four innings last night, Rodrigo Lopez four innings the night before, and as gruesome as that sounds, it is exactly in line with what Baltimore's starters have done. They've pitched eight games and lasted 32 innings against Boston (allowing 43 runs).
Chen spotted the Sox leads of 2-0 in the second and 4-0 in the fourth. Manny Ramírez, who began the night hitting .303 but with just nine extra-base hits (three doubles, six homers) led off the second with a solo shot to left, his 442d career homer, tying Dave Kingman for 32d all-time. Trot Nixon, with two outs in the inning, cranked a solo shot to center off the lefthanded Chen, his third homer and first in 28 games.
''If I start worrying about power numbers, I'll put myself in dire straits," Nixon said. ''I just want to hit the ball. The ball will do what it needs to do."
Mike Lowell, who began the day leading the American League in extra-base hits with 24, doubled down the left-field line (double No. 20) leading off the fourth. He scored on a Wily Mo Peña sac fly. Peña, who reached on Gibbons's error, advanced to second on a wild pitch and scored on Youkilis's two-out RBI double to left.
Schilling, meanwhile, was in command heading to the bottom of the fourth. But catcher Ramon Hernandez turned on a 93 m.p.h. fastball over the outer half of the plate, shooting it to the opposite field for a solo homer. It wasn't an awful pitch; Hernandez merely showed what former Sox catcher Mike Stanley used to call ''oppo-pop." Schilling agreed.
''Kind of caught me off-guard," Schilling said. ''Ball was up on the corner of the plate, away. I didn't know he could drive the ball that well that way."
It was the eighth homer Schilling has allowed this year, and that total would continue to swell. In the fifth, No. 9 hitter Markakis began a rally with a single (No. 8 and 9 hitters began the night hitting .297 against Schilling; all other hitters were batting .227).
Fahey, the rookie second baseman who homered just three times in 502 at-bats last year with the Double A Bowie Baysox, went ahead, 1-and-0. Schilling attempted to surprise Fahey with a slider in a fastball count. Instead, he hung one and Fahey turned on it, hitting it over the 373-foot sign in right-center for the first homer of his big-league career. That pulled Baltimore within 4-3.
Miguel Tejada, with two outs, hit a screaming double to right-center, bringing up Gibbons, who cranked one 410 feet to the right of dead center, about 10 rows into the bleachers. Schilling had been 0-and-2 to Gibbons, went to 3-and-2, then gave up the bomb. He's well aware of the numbers.
''Seven two-strike hits, four 0-and-2 hits," he said, rattling off his stats. ''I'm still overthrowing the ball in situations I can't be. Thirty-six pitches tonight with two strikes, and I got two swings and misses.
''I know stuffwise that I'm different than I was two years ago, I don't have that 96-97 consistently when I need it with two strikes. But I'm not translating that onto the field. I'm still trying to overthrow the ball with two strikes, and it's costing me and it's costing us."
It didn't cost the Sox the win, but it has, as recently as his previous start in New York (the team he faces Monday in Boston). Schilling, who began 4-0 with a 1.61 ERA, is 2-2 with a 6.53 ERA in his last five starts.
But up came the Sox, with Loretta and Ortiz coming through with clutch sixth-inning singles. Loretta, since bottoming out at .207, is a stunning 22 for 45 in his last 10 games, climbing all the way to .288.
''I don't know how to explain it," Francona said. ''It happens. As cold as they get, good hitters, they get just as hot. I know he feels a heck of a lot better about himself than he did a couple of weeks ago."