BALTIMORE -- Call back the rescue boats.
"We can keep people off the bridges [in Boston]," Terry Francona said yesterday after the Red Sox eased the temporary trauma of their Opening Night loss thanks largely to the wonder works of their blockbluster offseason acquisitions: Curt Schilling and Keith Foulke.
In their Sox debuts, Schilling manhandled the Orioles for six innings before Foulke rebounded from a disastrous spring training to cap three innings of perfection from the bullpen by pitching a dazzling ninth for his first Boston save. The prized righthanders counterbalanced a struggling offense and helped power the Sox past the O's, 4-1, before 35,355 at Camden Yards for Francona's inaugural win in a Boston uniform.
"We didn't knock the ball around the ballpark," said Francona, the 44th manager in the franchise's 104-year history, "but when you get a start like that and then your bullpen comes in and gives you a seven, eight, and nine like that, that just warms your heart."
The victory came with a price as Manny Ramirez left the game with a bruised right quadriceps and Kevin Millar was ushered away with a bloody nose after colliding with Johnny "Crash" Damon. But neither injury was considered serious, which also warmed some hearts.
Even Schilling could take a measure of relief in the afterglow. He had prepared for the moment for months, laboring with Nomar Garciaparra in a boot-camp training program in Arizona, spending seven weeks refining his pitching in Florida, hunching for countless hours over computers devising an intricate game plan to torment the Birds. Then he did it, overcoming an unusual level of personal anxiety in his debut and stifling the O's on six hits and a walk over six innings. Schilling surrendered only a run before he grudgingly accepted Francona's edict that throwing 108 pitches was enough for one day.
"I never really felt like I relaxed and got comfortable," he said, "but we had a good game plan going in and we stuck to it."
The secret of Schilling's success was keeping the Orioles on the defensive. He threw first-pitch strikes to the first 10 batters he faced and 18 of 24 overall. But he indicated he was most pleased for Foulke, who had generated concern throughout the ranks of fans and Sox execs alike by struggling badly in spring training. All Foulke did after posting a 15.00 ERA in the exhibition season and looking almost ordinary was suddenly regain the stuff that made him the league's top closer last year with the A's.
"I'm so happy for Foulkie to go out there and do exactly what he's been doing," Schilling said. "A whole lot of people can hopefully shut up for 24 hours."
After Alan Embree retired the Orioles in order in the seventh and Mike Timlin followed suit in the eighth, Foulke needed only nine pitches to subdue the Birds in the ninth. He finished by catching Jay Gibbons flailing at a split-finger fastball for the game's last strike.
"This is more my style of pitching," Foulke said. "That stuff down in Florida, I'm not real sure what that was."
Foulke said he corrected some mechanical flaws and responded to the adrenaline that flows when pitching matters.
"I've been around the block enough times," he said. "I've had some bad springs where I didn't pitch very well, but when the bell rings and it's time to go in a game and I hear all those Boston fans, it kind of gives me the chills. It's adrenaline. I got out there and all I saw was [catcher Jason Varitek's] glove, and said, `Let's get to it.' "
Good thing he and the rest of the pitching staff got to it because the Sox mustered only five hits off Baltimore starter Eric DuBose and a pair of relievers. Other than a solo homer by Millar in the fourth inning, the Sox managed only four singles, though they were patient enough to also draw eight walks. Still, they went 1 for 9 with runners in scoring position after going 1 for 8 in Game 1 in the same situations.
"We'll get this offense going," Millar said, "but that's a big `W' because the first one's always the toughest."
The Sox manufactured their first run when Ramirez walked leading off the second inning, went to second on a single by David Ortiz, reached third on a fielder's choice by Millar, and dashed home on a wild pitch by DuBose. Then Varitek singled home Millar, who had motored to second on the wild pitch.
That was it for the offense, except for Millar's homer and the unearned run Pokey Reese scored after he singled to lead off the ninth. In their greatest run of futility, the Sox loaded the bases with one out in the sixth and failed to score as Millar was forced out at the plate on Reese's grounder and Damon flied out.
To his credit, Damon helped for a second straight game to drive up the pitch count and knock out the Baltimore starter. In the first two games, the Oriole starters lasted a combined 11 1/3 innings while throwing a total of 219 pitches.
"If you can get the starter out early with the lead," Francona said, "that certainly enhances your chances to win."
As does a starter like Schilling, who has signed on with the Sox for at least the next three seasons. In his debut, he filled the unusual role of stopping a losing streak with Pedro Martinez's fingerprints on it. And it suited his teammates just fine for openers.
Take it from Damon: "It's a great way to start a career in Boston."