Theo Epstein's vision for the Red Sox seemed to crystallize yesterday on a pristine afternoon at Fenway Park.
One could see what the general manager was thinking in bringing in another big-time pitcher in Curt Schilling. And one could see better than ever the reason for signing Pokey Reese, not only to be the starting second baseman, but to back up Nomar Garciaparra if he was injured.
Reese is playing some of the best shortstop ever seen around here, and with his more-potent-than-thought bat, he has been a big factor in the Sox' 19-11 start.
Yesterday, Reese backed Schilling's five-hitter with an eye-popping inside-the-park home run, and he added a conventional homer in a 9-1 victory over the Kansas City Royals, increasing the Sox' winning streak to four games.
It was one of those cheery days for Red Sox Nation, largely because of Reese's upbeat personality; he's becoming a fan favorite. Couple that with Schilling's dominant pitching, which included eight strikeouts and no walks, and the Red Sox have more than recovered from their five-game tailspin last week and are back in a strong position atop the American League East.
Even when he struck out in the eighth in his last at-bat, Reese received a standing ovation, the affection equaled by the reaction of his teammates in the dugout.
"When you go out and give it 100 percent, you know, they're going to back you," said Reese. "That's what all the guys, all of us . . . we're giving it our all right now."
Schilling had to talk his way into going the distance, something he related to negotiating his contract with Epstein around Thanksgiving. But he had support from pitching coach Dave Wallace, and manager Terry Francona went along, making sure Schilling understood that if anyone got on in the ninth, he would make the call to the bullpen.
Schilling, who threw 120 pitches, made certain Francona never had to make that call. He takes pride in finishing games, something he was taught by his former minor league pitching coach, Johnny Podres. He believes he can throw 120-plus pitches every start. And he has a goal of making 35-36 starts and pitching more than 250 innings, which he's on pace to do.
"It's been a lot funner than I thought," said Schilling about pitching at Fenway. "I was excited about it, somewhat nervous about it. It's been so much more than I thought it was going to be. These fans are great. I mean, I love it. I love that part of the game, when they're in it like that."
The only Kansas City run came on Benito Santiago's fifth-inning homer on a split-fingered pitch. It was the first run the Royals had scored off him in 10 innings. Schilling had six 1-2-3 innings, and got out of a two-on, nobody-out jam in the third. Ken Harvey hit an infield single, and Santiago singled to left. After Desi Relaford bunted them to second and third, Schilling retired Angel Berroa on a short fly to right, and got the ever-dangerous Carlos Beltran to pop to shortstop.
Reese's inside-the-park homer came in the fifth against Royals starter Jimmy Gobble. It was a shot down the right-field line that hugged the railing. The fans didn't touch it, and the ball darted past Juan Gonzalez. He finally retrieved it, but the relay was too late to beat the racing Reese, whose heart was beating rapidly as he slid into home.
"Well, I knew I would probably get three out of it, but I didn't see how far the ball rolled away from him," said Reese. "When I looked up between second and third, Sveumer [third base coach Dale Sveum] was just waving, and I had to kick it back in and almost didn't make it. I was kind of stumbling into home, and that's why I gave the hook slide there."
Reese's two-run shot in the sixth off reliever Jason Grimsley went into the Monster seats in left. Reese's sudden burst of offense (he's now hitting .262, 11 points better than his lifetime average) is the result of working with hitting coach Ron Jackson.
The Sox led only 2-1 after five, but in the sixth they scored five times. The inning was ignited by Kevin Millar, who hit third yesterday. Millar doubled to right-center and then came home on Manny Ramirez's double. There were six hits in all, the others by Jason Varitek, who stole one of his two bases on the day, Reese's homer, and a Johnny Damon single to rub it in on the Royals, who have looked hapless this weekend.
"It was only one inning," said Royals manager Tony Pena of Gobble's effort. "I think he changed his approach. He tended to leave the ball in the strike zone. Other than that, he threw the ball well."
The Sox added two more runs in garbage time, when Dave McCarty, who led Boston with seven homers in spring training, struck for his first, with Bill Mueller aboard.
By then it was all very clear: It was the day of Reese and Schilling, two additions that Epstein had a vision about months ago.