MINNEAPOLIS -- Last night's game, on paper, had the look of a pitching duel that comes along once or twice a season: Johan Santana (6-4, 3.16 ERA) vs. Curt Schilling (9-2, 3.81), the guy who won the 2004 Cy Young against the guy who placed second. And, as is often the case in life, the event did not live up to the hype; in this case, it exceeded it.
``I knew from jump street he was on," Schilling later said. ``I knew he was going to have to make one mistake for us to win."
Santana, for eight spellbinding innings, was channeling Randy Johnson, amassing 13 strikeouts, the highest total by a lefthander against the Sox since 1972 with the exception of that man. Mickey Lolich, in 1972, fanned 15 Red Sox, and Johnson matched that in 1998. Santana walked no one and found the plate with 75 of his 102 pitches.
``Did he look nasty from up there?" David Ortiz asked the assembled writers.
Schilling, for eight workmanlike innings, was managing the game and himself, getting double plays when he needed them, facing just 19 batters through six innings, and exiting with eight fewer K's than Santana but an equivalent end result: one run allowed. Both gave up just a single run, on a solo homer, in the seventh (Jason Varitek homered for the Sox; Michael Cuddyer for the Twins).
But, in the 12th, the quality arms had come and gone: Schilling, Jonathan Papelbon, and Mike Timlin for the Sox; Santana, Joe Nathan, and Juan Rincon for the Twins. That left the game in the hands of Jesse Crain and Julian Tavarez. Crain allowed a run on an Alex Gonzalez fielder's choice, putting the Sox ahead, 2-1. But Tavarez, usually of value because he sinks the ball, loaded the bases, hitting Cuddyer, allowing a scorched ground-rule double to Justin Morneau, and intentionally walking Torii Hunter to load the bases and set up a double play.
That brought up Jason Kubel, who, with the count full, hit a ball so high that it disappeared against the Metrodome's white roof. It was against that blank canvas that with one brushstroke he created a masterpiece: a walkoff grand slam for a 5-2 win.
``It was a grind game," Schilling said, explaining why he told his manager he'd had enough after 91 pitches, 17 fewer than his season average. The Sox could have used more out of him, but he wasn't able to provide it.
For eight innings, though, he was as good as he's been this year. The control freak had not walked anyone in six games covering 34 1/3 innings and had not walked the leadoff hitter in any of the 88 innings he'd begun before last night. But this night began with a walk of Luis Castillo. Still, Castillo was erased moments later when Lew Ford grounded into a double play begun by Gonzalez.
Schilling's defense would turn three double plays for him, allowing him to last as long as he did, albeit with a far different approach than Santana. ``The important thing for me is I didn't get caught up in what he was doing," Schilling said. ``That's much different than in the past."
Santana couldn't have been more efficient than Schilling. What he was was more spectacular. He began the night by fanning Coco Crisp swinging at an 82 mile-per-hour changeup, Mark Loretta swinging at the same pitch, and Ortiz looking at a 93 mile-per-hour fastball on the outer edge. Ortiz never moved. Santana then fanned Manny Ramírez to begin the second and put down Varitek, also on a changeup. It was five batters, 5 K's in the book, and Santana had the 23,521 at the Metrodome thinking they'd have some history to talk about at work this morning.
Mike Lowell disturbed the K procession, flying out to center to end the second. Kevin Youkilis, leading off the third, fanned, also at an 82 mile-per-hour changeup -- a pitch that was starting over the plate and diving away from the righthanded hitters. Trot Nixon then doubled to left-center off Ford's glove. Before that, Santana had thrown 32 pitches, with one (Lowell's popout) put in play.
But his 33d and 35th pitches were hit. Lowell doubled and Gonzalez singled to left. Third base coach DeMarlo Hale, with one out, held Nixon at third, putting two runners on with one out. Santana, though, struck out Crisp on another changeup, then got Loretta to pop weakly to short.
Ortiz, leading off the fourth, fanned again, this time swinging, this time at a changeup. The strikeout represented the 1,000th of Santana's career. He became just the sixth Twin to accomplish the feat.
``We had a lot of guys sitting on [his changeup] tonight that didn't hit it," Ortiz said. ``You don't sit on the changeup unless you have to because that fastball will eat you."
In the fifth, Santana struck out the side for the second time -- Lowell, Youkilis, and Nixon, all swinging at low-80s changeups. The Youkilis strikeout gave Santana 10, for his 29th career 10-K game and fifth this year. (Schilling has 35, none this year.)
Santana began the sixth by fanning Gonzalez. That gave him four K's in a row and, by this point, all nine Red Sox batters had struck out at least once.
``When he's on, he's on, and he was on tonight," Ortiz said. ``To be a Cy Young [winner], that's the way you've got to be."
Santana made his lone mistake to Varitek with two outs in the seventh on his 82d pitch of the night. Varitek had fanned and grounded out but this time went up swinging. The first pitch he saw cut a line down the middle of the plate, and he pounced, launching an absolute screamer to left-center. His seventh homer of the season covered 404 feet and bumped the Sox ahead, 1-0.
Schilling gave that back to Cuddyer, who doesn't fit the profile of a cleanup hitter (.260, 32 HRs, 109 RBIs in 325 games before '06), but acted like one. He turned on an 0-and-2 fastball in the bottom of the seventh. Schilling wanted it back, no doubt, but it cleared the fence in center, and no one was getting that ball back. That tied matters at 1.
``It was an executed pitch, but I shook Tek off," Schilling said. ``It was on the corner, but it wasn't the right pitch in that situation."
The game remained tied deeper into the night with some tremendous defense. Youkilis, in the ninth, made a play the Sox had to have.
With no outs and a runner on second, Ford attempted to bunt the runner along. Youkilis charged and cut down the runner at third, sending the game to extra innings. Hunter, in the 11th, overran a ball stung by Ramírez to center but reeled it in behind his head.
But the Sox were running out of pitchers, and Kubel, with one momentous swing, ended this in a manner fitting of the 11-plus innings that came before it.
``I knew I hit it high," Kubel said. ``I thought it was too high to get out."
Said Hunter, who scored on the play: ``I have chills right now."