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Fits and starts

Bruising opener ends ugly for the resilient Sox

NEW YORK -- File under: Things gone wrong.

No one said Curt Schilling would be, well, Curt Schilling at his best last night when he carried the hopes of Red Sox fans to the mound at Yankee Stadium. Everyone knew he suffered from tendinitis behind his right ankle and needed a injection of the numbing agent Marcaine simply to pitch.

But Schilling and the Sox hoped against hope he would be fine. They conducted a test run Monday at Fenway Park and all parties involved -- Schilling, manager Terry Francona, general manager Theo Epstein, and medical director Bill Morgan -- saw no reason to push back his start.

As it turned out, Schilling needed more time to heal before he faced the Yankees in the crucial opener of their best-of-seven American League Championship Series.

What now?

In an injury-shortened outing that raised questions about how effective he may be the rest of the way, Schilling survived only three stressful innings as the Yankees thumped him for six runs en route to a 10-7 victory before 56,135 on 161st Street. On the night Schilling hoped to "shut up" the sellout crowd, he instead endured the ignominy of the masses chanting, "Who's your daddy?"

"The bell rang and I couldn't answer it," Schilling said, acknowledging that the injury prevented him from generating the power he needed to drive off the mound. "I've been looking forward to this for almost a year, so it's very disappointing, but it's one game and it's over."

The only consolation was a rousing comeback attempt in which the Sox weathered 6 1/3 perfect innings from Yankee starter Mike Mussina to close within 8-7 and bring the go-ahead run to the plate in the eighth. Even after they fell behind, 10-7, in the eighth, the Sox put the tying run at the plate in the ninth before Bill Mueller grounded into a game-ending double play against Mariano Rivera.

"It was a tough game to lose," Manny Ramirez said, "but at least we let them know we can come back at any time."

The question is, will Schilling's injury prevent him from coming back in the series? He said he would know more about his condition today and declined to speculate on whether he could make his next scheduled start in Game 5, if necessary.

"If I can't go out there with something better than what I had today, I'm not going back out there," he said. "This is not about me braving through something. This is about us and winning the world championship, and if I can't give them better than I had today, I won't take the ball again."

The outing was Schilling's shortest -- other than a game in 2001 that was suspended because a light transformer exploded in San Diego -- since May 22, 1997, when he lasted only 2 2/3 innings for the Phillies against the Mets. And he could be forgiven for the brevity of the '97 outing because he went sleepless the night before as he stayed up with his wife, Shonda, who delivered their daughter, Gabriella, at 6:30 a.m.

This time it was Schilling rather than Shonda who needed medical attention after the Yankees torched him for two runs in the first inning and four more in the third as he struggled to hit 90 on the radar gun. Rarely exceeding 86 to 87, he surrendered six hits, including a three-run double to Hideki Matsui, and a pair of walks before the Sox mercifully lifted him.

After Schilling's struggles, Francona dismissed as premature a question about whether the Sox may need to replace Schilling with Derek Lowe for Game 5. Francona seemed encouraged that Schilling "didn't complain about any pain or anything like that."

Still, some of Schilling's teammates harbored some concern.

"It is a concern?" Alan Embree said. "You've got to think so, but you don't know with the treatment and the attention he gets from the doctor. It helps. We'll have to wait and see."

With Schilling long gone, the Sox finally got to Mussina when Mark Bellhorn broke up his bid for a perfect game by driving an 0-and-2 pitch to the warning track in left-center for a one-out double. A batter later, David Ortiz singled Bellhorn to third, setting the stage for three consecutive run-scoring hits: a two-run double by Kevin Millar, an RBI single by Trot Nixon, and a two-run homer by Jason Varitek.

Varitek's homer, off Tanyon Sturtze, was his eighth in postseason play.

"We showed a lot of fight to come back in that game," Varitek said.

The Sox made it even more interesting in the eighth inning when Ortiz tagged Tom Gordon for a two-run triple -- he narrowly missed a home run -- to lift the Sox within a run, 8-7, before the Yankees summoned Rivera, just returned from attending the funeral of relatives who died at the swimming pool at his home in Panama.

Bernie Williams also helped to spoil Boston's comeback attempt by ripping a two-run double over Ramirez in left field in the eighth off Mike Timlin, giving the Yankees a three-run cushion with three outs to go. Alex Rodriguez and Gary Sheffield stroked consecutive singles off Timlin to set up the crusher by Williams.

"It was a tough play," Ramirez said. "I just missed it."

The comeback effort was particularly remarkable because the Sox had not overcome more than a five-run deficit all season.

Schilling, who considers every game he pitches his responsibility, said the comeback told him that if the Sox "sent anybody else but me out there tonight, we would have won the game."

But the Sox brushed aside the defeat and transferred their hopes to Pedro Martinez, who starts Game 2 tonight.

"It was just one game," Ramirez said. "We're going to keep battling."

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