Sox pulled up by Schilling
ANAHEIM, Calif. -- If the Red Sox are at a crossroads, as general manager Theo Epstein said yesterday, Curt Schilling left no doubt that he won't be satisfied with anything less than a one-way ticket to October, and it's up to his teammates whether they want to jump on for the ride.
With the Sox in danger of joining sore-legged Manny Ramirez in the breakdown lane of a California freeway, Schilling held steady on the wheel and limited the American League's best hitting team, the Anaheim Angels, to three hits and a run in eight innings in a 6-2 win that gave the Sox a split of their four-game series here.
David Ortiz, who may not be able to avert the detour of a suspension, hit a sixth-inning three-run home run, his second homer in two games since his Friday night meltdown, which enabled the Sox to overcome an early 1-0 deficit created by Bengie Molina's third-inning home run. Gabe Kapler, Ramirez's stand-in in left field, hit a home run to lead off a three-run seventh that also featured Johnny Damon's double, Ortiz's RBI single, and a run-scoring triple by Nomar Garciaparra.
"I think we are at a bit of a crossroads," Epstein said in an e-mailed response to a question. "We have not played well on the road and we are in a tough part of the schedule. If we are going to raise our level of play, certain guys have to step up, much as they did in the last six weeks of the season last year.
"Often, in the face of adversity, the guys who come forward are the ones who want to win the most. Perhaps today was a good start."
By invoking the end of last season, Epstein appeared to be drawing a comparison to Ramirez's controversial absence from a late-August Yankees series and his subsequent refusal to pinch hit on Labor Day in Philadelphia. That was the day Trot Nixon hit a game-winning grand slam that the Sox pointed to as the defining moment of their season. Teammates challenged Ramirez to be on the same page as the rest of the club, and both slugger and ballclub had big Septembers as the Sox won the wild card.
Pitching for the first time in weeks without the injection of a painkiller, Schilling improved his record to 12-4 after winning his fifth straight decision. Ten times Schilling has taken the mound after a Sox loss. Eight times in those games, the Sox have won, with Schilling getting credit for the victory in seven of them.
"We're not playing well, we're playing inconsistent," Schilling said after the Sox were able to stay even with Oakland in the wild-card race while maintaining the same 1 1/2-game lead in the wild-card standings with which they arrived. "We're going to have to step it up.
"But we've been saying that for how long now. We've got to start doing it out there. We had six good days before the All-Star break, but here it is a week later and we're still seven games out [in the AL East]. And we've got to play better on the road."
The Sox started the day the same way they'd ended the night before against Angels reliever Frankie Rodriguez, who struck out the side in the ninth Saturday night. Angels starter John Lackey struck out three Sox in the first, whiffing Garciaparra after Ortiz's two-out triple, then whiffed two more in the second and two more in the fifth. That gave him seven strikeouts, a season high.
Meanwhile, Schilling, though saying he felt a bit sluggish on an afternoon when the game-time temperature was 90 degrees, faced just two batters over the minimum through the first five innings, but one of them was Molina, who drove a hanging breaking ball into the left-field seats with one out in the third.
"For the first couple of innings," Schilling said, "I thought Bengie's home run was going to stand up, but with this offense, I always feel that if you keep the game close, the offense will find a way."
That faith was rewarded in the sixth, when Damon worked a one-out walk, Mark Bellhorn grounded a single through the right side, and Ortiz drove a cut fastball at least 420 feet to right.
"Home runs are always going to be part of my game," Ortiz said. "But I get in so much trouble when I try to hit a home run. My swing gets long and I take my face off the ball."
That was a face-saving blow for the Sox, whose temperature rose briefly when Lackey hit the next batter, Garciaparra, in the left forearm. Plate umpire Kevin Kelley issued a warning to both teams, which left Angels manager Mike Scioscia highly agitated in the eighth, when Schilling, who did not walk a batter, hit Molina in the hip but was not ejected. Scioscia, who didn't think Lackey's warning was warranted because he thought the pitcher slipped trying to throw the same pitch Garciaparra had popped up on a previous at-bat, was ejected when he asked why Schilling wasn't automatically tossed.
Angels outfielder Tim Salmon took a broader view. "If their guy gets hit and they want to hit someone," Salmon said, "they did it the right way."
Just like everything else Schilling did.
"What he did," said reliever Mike Timlin, who gave up a run in the ninth, "was tremendous."