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Sox aces are dazzled by the gem

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. -- Of course they were watching, Curt Schilling and Pedro Martinez both. With history hanging on every pitch, and a member of their elite brotherhood on the mound, did you really believe they were going to pass up Randy Johnson for Travis Harper?

So there they were, in front of the clubhouse TV, when Arizona lefthander Randy Johnson became the 17th pitcher in major league history -- and at age 40 the oldest -- to pitch a perfect game when he dominated the Braves in Atlanta last night. And the Red Sox righthanders still made it out on the field in time to shake Mike Timlin's hand at the end of Boston's 7-3 win over the Devil Rays in Tropicana Field.

"I was having a little trouble there breathing at the end," Schilling said of watching Johnson, his friend and former Arizona teammate, with whom he had shared numerous rounds of golf, not to mention the World Series MVP trophy in 2001, the year Johnson finished first in the Cy Young Award voting and Schilling second.

"I even got a little nervous," said Martinez, who nine years ago, on June 3, 1995, himself was perfect for nine innings while pitching for Montreal, only to be deprived of a place in the record book when the game remained scoreless in regulation and Bip Roberts of the Padres led off the 10th with a double.

"I don't think [Johnson's gem] compared to that," Martinez said. "He had absolute control of the game, an experienced pitcher. Mine was just a coincidence. I was a young buck with good stuff who threw over [the plate]. Mine was thrown. His was pitched."

Martinez watched the last three innings.

"I felt bad for that poor kid, Green," he said, referring to Nick Green, the Braves' rookie second baseman appearing in just his third major league game, who struck out for the second out of the ninth. "He threw him 97, on the black." Martinez added a high-pitched laugh for emphasis.

Pinch hitter Eddie Perez, the last batter to face Johnson, took good career numbers to the plate against the Big Unit: 6 for 13.

"But he didn't stand a chance this time," said Martinez.

Schilling never has had a no-hitter. He has two one-hitters, but on each occasion, the hits came early. In 1992, when Schilling was with the Phillies, Bobby Bonilla of the Pirates homered to lead off the fifth inning. In 2002, with the Diamondbacks, he gave up a third-inning single to Raul Casanova of the Brewers.

"You may watch a thousand games," said Schilling, "and you might never see another [perfect game] in your lifetime. There are too many things that have to happen."

Johnson, a five-time Cy Young Award winner, won just six games last season, as he was limited to just 18 starts because of two stints on the disabled list with an injured right knee. He eventually needed surgery, and his age invited speculation that he might not return to his previous form.

"I just want to find all those people who were talking about the end of his career last winter," Schilling said. "He's been pitching his butt off the whole last eight weeks. That's awesome. I'm so happy for him."

Johnson's last pitch, which Perez swung at and missed to become Johnson's 13th strikeout victim, was clocked at 98 miles an hour.

"He's 40, he's up there in years, so he's struggling," Schilling said sarcastically.

"Guys that play the game at that level -- do anything in life at that level -- they do things that other people don't dream of doing because they push themselves. That's what he's done. That's what he's done the last three years I've watched him.

"You feel good for people like that. They're getting rewarded for the time and effort and the commitment they made to their job."

Schilling was not surprised at how nonchalant Johnson appeared, even as his young catcher, Robbie Hammock, leaped up and down.

"That's how he is," Schilling said, "and Robbie reacted exactly the way Robbie is supposed to react. If you watch it again, Robbie is jumping up and down and RJ is looking at him and starts laughing. He's laughing at him as he's coming off the mound."

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