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Schilling taken deep in ninth by Rodriguez

Curt Schilling's genre of choice has long been drama, and there last night, just after 10, was the ultimate stage. He, the hero, jogged out of the bullpen, flashbulbs lighting up the night, the delirious crowd standing, and the villainous Gary Sheffield and Alex Rodriguez due up.

But, in two disturbingly forceful cuts, Sheffield and Rodriguez inserted a jarring dose of reality into Schilling's return engagement. The game was tied at 6-6, the inning was the ninth, and, well, Schilling met a Foulkian end.

Sheffield, who went to a full count, laced a splitter off the Wall in left-center for a leadoff double, and Rodriguez, waving his bat as effortlessly as a magic wand -- and with similarly mystic power -- obliterated another splitter.

''Tonight was sort of his signature type of thing," said Yankees manager Joe Torre. ''Because he hit a monster home run."

Another 5 to 10 feet of lift, and the home run would have cleared the wall in center field to the right of the flag pole and exited Fenway, a feat last accomplished by Jim Rice in 1975, and only six times since Fenway's inception. The ball's awesome flight path was a mere bonus for Rodriguez, who traded barbs with Schilling in January. The important thing was the two runs sent the Yankees to an 8-6 win in a game the Sox led, 4-0.

''I threw two, as bad splits as I can throw, on back-to-back pitches," said Schilling, who called his splitter ''the one pitch I wasn't worried about in my rehab.

''Sheff hit a split that I left up. He hammered it. I came back and hung a split on the next pitch to A-Rod.

''I certainly felt I was going to have more out there tonight than I did."

Schilling's lack of execution cost him last night, but manager Terry Francona, despite inserting Schilling in the closer role, acknowledged that he wasn't anticipating perfection.

''You can't just get that by flicking the button," Francona said. ''You've got to throw a guy out there to let him compete and get sweaty and get a feel for his pitches. Patience isn't a whole lot of fun, but that's the way to get rewarded with good players."

It was patience -- by the Yankee hitters -- that allowed them to come back at all. The Yankees, winners of eight of nine and now 1 1/2 games behind the Sox in the AL East, trailed by four after the first inning.

The Sox, who have won only five of 14, batted around in the first against Mike Mussina, scoring four runs on only three hits. Johnny Damon led off with a single, extending his hitting streak to 26 games (eight shy of the club record), and scored on a David Ortiz single. Manny Ramirez followed with a walk, then Trot Nixon didn't miss when Mussina left a cutter up and over the plate. Nixon's three-run blast, his 10th, vaulted the Sox to a 4-0 lead.

With his team down, Jason Giambi led off the second and launched a 3-and-2 hanger down right-field line. Nixon gave chase, reached the wall, and jumped. Out of the tangle of arms emerged a stunning catch. Unfortunately for Nixon and the Sox, the arm belonged to a man in a pink dress shirt who spent much of the remainder of the inning on his cellphone, explaining his exploits.

''He didn't interfere in any way, shape, or form," Nixon said. ''He just made a great catch."

The homer was Giambi's 11th of the season and sixth in his last seven games. George Steinbrenner this week called Giambi's turnaround ''a remarkable comeback," and Francona agreed.

''Earlier in the year his bat looked a little sluggish," Francona said. ''He looks a lot more comfortable. And with comfort comes confidence. He's doing a lot of damage."

Two batters later, Bernie Williams followed with a solo shot to the same region, this one, though, uncatchable.

Sheffield (3 for 4, 2 doubles, 1 HR, 2 RBIs) closed it to 4-3 in the third with an RBI double off the wall in center field, and it would be his laser of a homer -- does he hit them any other way? -- that provided the Yankees with their fourth run, in the fifth inning.

''I've never seen a guy swing so hard and miss so little," Francona said.

Behind, 5-4, New York tied it in the sixth, with an unearned run off Bronson Arroyo on a Bill Mueller throwing error after he made a tremendous pickup of a Derek Jeter grounder.

In the seventh, Yankee destroyer Ortiz hit a solo blast that gave the Sox a brief, 6-5 lead. In his Red Sox career, Ortiz is batting .336 (76 for 226) against the Yankees with 18 home runs and 52 RBIs in 53 games, postseason included.

But that would be for naught. Alan Embree conceded a Jorge Posada double to begin the eighth, Mike Timlin relieved Embree, and the second batter he faced, pinch hitter Ruben Sierra, pulled a game-tying double down the line in right.

Timlin has now allowed 12 of 19 inherited runners to score.

''I'll still take my chances with Mike," Francona said.

New York's bullpen, the source of significant criticism, and recent tinkering, was one swing shy of impeccable. Ortiz homered off Tanyon Sturtze in the seventh, but Tom Gordon pitched a clean eighth and has not allowed a hit to the last 21 batters he has faced, a major league high.

Mariano Rivera, hailed in early April for blowing two saves vs. the Sox, struck out the side in the ninth and has recorded 21 straight saves.

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