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Schilling: Rocky outing

Sox can't climb all the way back after ace's poor performance

DENVER -- The doctor was waiting. So was the MRI machine -- and an imminent decision on Curt Schilling's fate.

In his last stand before the Red Sox determine whether his ankle injury is serious enough to warrant a stint on the disabled list, Schilling last night pitched as if he were defending the Alamo, firing everything he had at the Rockies amid a siege that left him in dire need of help -- if not from the medical team, then at least his relief corps.

Schilling used the anesthetic Marcaine to ease the discomfort caused by the bruised bone in his right ankle joint. But it would take a lot more than Marcaine to salve the pain for the Sox of dropping a second straight game to the Rockies, one of the losingest teams in baseball.

With Schilling struggling mightily, the Rockies dealt him his first defeat in six starts since May 13 by twice overcoming deficits en route to a 7-6 victory before 39,319 at Coors Field. The loss dropped the Sox a season-high 5 1/2 games back in the American League East as the surging Yankees cruised past the Diamondbacks, 9-4, in Arizona.

"We're not playing well," Schilling said. "We're a much better team than this. We've really got to batten down the hatches and start doing the things we do best, which is good starting pitching and pounding the baseball."

Schilling's encounter at hitter-friendly Coors was a 113-pitch case study in misery as he surrendered seven runs (five earned) on nine hits, four walks, and a hit batsman. He had allowed more than nine hits only once this season (a 13-hit thumping by the Blue Jays April 22). He had not walked four batters in a game since April 17 against the Yankees. And he had not hit a batter since April 11 against the Jays.

But Schilling said his ankle has improved considerably and attributed his struggles more to shoddy command than physical infirmity.

"It feels better and it feels stronger," he said. "That's why tonight is as disappointing as it is. As good as I felt, I just had too much trouble executing."

Schilling, who dropped to 8-4 while his ERA rose to 3.31, departed for Boston after the game. Dr. Bill Morgan, who flew to Denver yesterday to monitor the righthander's condition, was scheduled to conduct an MRI tomorrow to determine if Schilling's injury has worsened. If it has, he is likely to land on the disabled list. But Schilling seemed confident he would make his next start Tuesday against the Twins at Fenway Park, saying he took a second injection of Marcaine after the fifth inning solely as a precaution.

"I do feel like I've turned a corner in the last three of four days," he said.

Still, his ordeal was so difficult that he managed to retire the Rockies in order only once. The Sox gave him leads of 1-0 in the second inning and 3-2 in the fourth, but he was unable to protect them.

The thin air in mile-high Denver may have played a role by affecting one of his signature pitches.

"In a place like this, he didn't have a real good split," catcher Jason Varitek said. "Without that, it's hard to rely on your breaking balls, so you're going to have to locate your fastball."

That turned out to be a problem as well, particularly when he left a 95-mile-per-hour heater over the plate with an 0-and-2 count to Vinny Castilla in the fourth. Schilling had created a mess for himself by issuing consecutive walks to Royce Clayton and Todd Helton. And Castilla capitalized by pounding the fastball for a two-run double that put the Rockies ahead to stay.

"I made about as many mistakes in a span of three hitters as you can make," Schilling said, "and it beat us."

For their part, Sox hitters fell just shy of compensating for Schilling's woes. Trailing, 7-4, in the ninth inning, they tagged Colorado closer Shawn Chacon for two runs on singles by Manny Ramirez, Nomar Garciaparra, Varitek, and Kevin Youkilis. But with two outs and the tying run at third, Chacon escaped by getting pinch hitter David McCarty to fly out to right on a 3-and-2 pitch.

"We're not finding ways to win," Johnny Damon said. "We had a productive last inning but we just need to score more runs. This offense is definitely capable of doing that."

The Sox mustered 11 base runners (on six hits and five walks) against Colorado starter Jason Jennings, whose name has been floated as possible trade fodder involving the Sox, but they scored only three times. They got solo homers from Youkilis, Trot Nixon (in his season debut), and Varitek (off reliever Scott Dohmann). But they otherwise mustered only an RBI single by Damon before the ninth-inning rally.

The Sox compounded their problems by twice going hitless with the bases loaded, lowering their American League-worst average with the bases full to .188. Amid the futility, they committed two errors (by Damon and Garciaparra) as their league-leading total of unearned runs rose to 44. And they let the Rockies win a second straight game at Coors for the first time in a month.

Worse, the Sox have lost three games on the Yankees since Friday. The last time the Yankees led the Sox by more than 5 1/2 games was the final game of last season, when the margin was six.

"We have to look at the long run now," Damon said. "The Yankees seem like they can't lose. We have to take care of our own business and go out and win games. We can't worry about the Yankees. We're in position for that wild-card spot right now and there's less than a hundred games left. We'll be fine."

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