Leave it to the quiet slugger in the powder blue leather coat and Allen Iverson cap to put it in perspective. Yes, the Red Sox mauled the once-mighty Yankees for the second time in as many days yesterday at Fenway Park. And, sure, Terry Francona's crew made the Bronx Bombers look about as toothless as last year's Tigers. But, gee, Manny "The Answer" Ramirez suggested as he headed out into the night after the latest triumph, don't go ordering the bubbly just yet.
"It feels good, but we still have a long way to go," said Ramirez, who also wears an Iverson wristband to honor his favorite NBA player. "We're going to see those guys again in September, and then we'll see where we're at."
By all accounts, things looked just dandy for the Sox as Curt Schilling discombobulated the Steinbrenner Nine into the seventh inning and picked up some timely help from his relief corps and shorthanded lineup to coast to a 5-2 victory before 35,023 in the Fens. The victory, secured without the injured Nomar Garciaparra and Trot Nixon, guaranteed the Sox at least a split in the four-game series that ends tomorrow.
"Every game we win with Nomar and Trot not here is big, especially against these guys," said Schilling, who spotted the struggling Yankees only one run over 6 1/3 innings as the Sox won for the third time in as many starts by their new difference maker.
Ramirez pitched in with his 350th career homer, a blast over the Wall off Mike Mussina leading off the fifth inning. But the Sox already had scored all the runs they needed as they exploited a rare bout of wildness by Mussina to score twice in the second and capitalized on shortstop Derek Jeter's second error in as many games in the third to score again. Johnny Damon (2 for 4 with a walk and two RBIs) produced Boston's final run by doubling home Pokey Reese in the eighth.
"It's very nice how the series has started," Damon said. "We have to be happy we're catching them at not a great time in their season. They're still trying to get things right."
No kidding. While Boss Steinbrenner's pricey pitching staff has yet to fully hit its stride, his star-laden lineup has all but forgotten how to put one foot in front of the other. It hardly helps, of course, that the Yankees ran up against their nemesis, Tim Wakefield, and the daunting Schilling on consecutive days. Still, they improved their league-worst team batting average to .206 by mustering eight hits, including Tony Clark's solo homer off Schilling, against the Sox starter and relievers Mike Timlin and Keith Foulke.
No Yankee has struggled more than Alex Rodriguez, who has gone 0 for 8 in the series, a run of futility that ended with him bouncing into an inning-ending double play when he could have tied the game with a three-homer in the seventh.
"Getting A-Rod to hit the ball on the ground is always nice," said Timlin, who induced the double play with a 3-and-1 pitch. "He got into a count where he was confident swinging, and I threw him a sinker on the inside corner." Schilling set the tone as he went all but unscathed while scattering six hits and four walks. He struck out eight, including Jeter three times and Rodriguez twice, as he mixed his cutter, curve, and nasty splitter with a fastball that ranged from 92 to 97 on the radar gun.
Dinged only by Clark's homer in the fifth, Schilling stranded runners at second and third in the second by blowing a third-strike splitter past Clark. He left a runner at third by getting Jorge Posada to bounce a splitter into a double play to end the fourth. And he used his splitter to get Clark to bounce to first in the sixth and leave the bases loaded.
"He's a horse," said Gabe Kapler, who knocked in a run in the third inning on a fielder's choice. "You feel like if you need a strikeout, he's going to get it, and if you need a double play, you're going to get it. He's just a total pro. It's awesome to have him on our team."
Not that Foulke is chopped liver. Though he surrendered his first run of the season on Jeter's ninth-inning single, Foulke nailed down the victory despite pitching in his third game in as many days. He went 1 1/3 innings Thursday against the Orioles, one inning Friday against the Yankees, and one inning again yesterday.
"We asked a lot of him, just about as much as you can ask out of somebody three days in a row," catcher Jason Varitek said, "and he did a great job."
How much is too much for Foulke, who leads the pen with nine innings pitched over seven appearances in the first 10 games?
"We'll figure it out," he said. "This early in the season, I'll probably be down [today]. It's just one of those things where you go out there and get the victories and worry about tomorrow tomorrow."
For the second straight game, Francona sent Foulke into a non-save situation, with the Sox leading by four runs.
"That's why I'm out there, to pitch," he said. "I may not get the opportunity for a lot of saves, but the bottom line is, I'm still a bullpen pitcher and that's what bullpen guys do. They go out and get outs late in the game, whether it's a four-run lead or three-run lead."
The Sox will send Derek Lowe against Jose Contreras today and Bronson Arroyo against Kevin Brown tomorrow in pursuit of a sweep. If Lowe and Arroyo match Wakefield and Schilling for effectiveness, the woes could worsen for the Yankees.
"Good pitching got them the last two days," Damon said. "Hopefully, it will be good pitching on our side the next two days."