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Finish isn't there

Schilling is still work in progress

Again Curt Schilling went to the mound, and again he walked off haunted by the apparition of Schilling past and perplexed by the incarnation of Schilling present.

Yes, yesterday's 5-3 loss to Chicago in a makeup game could be considered progress: Schilling increased his pitch count (he threw 117, 79 for strikes), sustained his velocity (his 107th pitch crossed the plate at 93 miles per hour), and regained some confidence in his split-fingered fastball, which he abandoned after two innings his previous time out.

But he faced a team with nothing better than a .285 hitter and continued to get hit, especially by righthanded batters. He's been hit at a .383 clip this year by righties, compared with .257 by lefties. Yesterday, righthanded hitters went 5 for 13 against Schilling with three doubles, a triple, a homer (Paul Konerko, on a curveball to lead off the sixth), two walks, and three RBIs.

That should make Saturday afternoon a must-see, as Schilling faces Jeter, Rodriguez, Sheffield & Co. in the Bronx. Asked yesterday if he's looking forward to that, Schilling said, ''I just want to pitch a good game."

Yesterday, he did, intermittently. Though his fastball peaked at 95 m.p.h., he cited fastball command as the reason he gave the appearance of laboring. No at-bat better encapsulated that than catcher Chris Widger's in the fourth inning.

Widger played in Camden (N.J., not Yards) last season in the Independent League and played yesterday because A.J. Pierzynski remained home with his wife, who was scheduled to have induced labor. Widger, who apparently had his catcher's gear on when his turn at bat came, took forever to get out of the dugout to hit.

Agitated home plate umpire Larry Young stood with hands on hips waiting and staring at the visiting dugout until a harried Widger emerged. He put on his batting gloves just as he stepped into the box and quickly fell behind 0-and-2. Yet he battled Schilling to an 11-pitch at-bat before flying out.

''When I'm spotting my fastball, I usually don't have those kind of at-bats unless it's a real, real good hitter," Schilling said. ''When you're not commanding your fastball and you're a fastball pitcher, it's going to be a lot harder to get outs."

And so, three starts into Schilling's return to the rotation, he's 0-2 with a 7.79 ERA. Against Kansas City, Tampa Bay, and Chicago, he has allowed 27 hits and 15 runs in 17 1/3 innings. He has begun 18 innings, and has retired the side in order only three times.

Yesterday, the Chicago runs off him came in the middle innings. The White Sox plated one in the fourth on a Timo Perez RBI single to left. They tacked on two in the fifth, on an RBI double by No. 9 hitter Juan Uribe and a difficult squeeze expertly executed by Tadahito Iguchi. Chicago plated its last run off Schilling in the sixth, when he hung a 1-and-2 curveball to Konerko (note: the first baseman's contract will be up after the season, and the homer was his 34th).

''Tried to bounce a curveball to Konerko and didn't," Schilling said.

Schilling went back out for another inning.

''We wanted to get him back out there for the seventh," manager Terry Francona said. ''I think that was a step by itself."

But Schilling allowed three consecutive runners (two singles and a walk), getting an out only when Uribe wandered off second and was picked off by Jason Varitek. With two on, and one out, Francona elected to bring in Keith Foulke, who'd worked only a third of an inning over four days since being activated.

He fanned Carl Everett on three pitches, the last a changeup, then got Konerko to ground a fastball to Kevin Youkilis at third to end the inning. Foulke also worked the eighth, going 1 2/3 hitless innings with one strikeout and one hit batter.

Still, the pitcher whose name was on everyone's lips by the end of the day was Chicago righthander Brandon McCarthy, the 6-foot-7-inch rookie the Marlins asked for in July when Chicago considered dealing for A.J. Burnett.

McCarthy went seven innings, allowing only three hits and a walk while striking out seven. He struck out Edgar Renteria three times in three at-bats on three different pitches -- looking in the first at a wicked curveball, looking in the third at heat, then swinging in the sixth at a cutter.

But McCarthy's best pitch -- or so it appeared, gauging by Sox swings -- was his changeup, which he used to strike out three straight to end the sixth (Trot Nixon) and begin the seventh (Varitek and Kevin Millar).

''I'll tell you," Francona said, ''they've got some kind of staff. He's come up with a changeup that I think has made him a different pitcher."

The Sox' Nos. 1-3 hitters -- Youkilis, Renteria, and David Ortiz -- combined to go 0 for 11 with a walk and six strikeouts. A day off for Bill Mueller, and a left rotator cuff injury for Johnny Damon, landed Youkilis in the lineup and the leadoff spot, though he went 0 for 4. He did have a nine-pitch at-bat to begin McCarthy's day.

McCarthy gave way to Cliff Politte and Damaso Marte for a combined scoreless inning before 270-pound flamethrower Bobby Jenks came on for the ninth. Manny Ramirez fanned, Nixon reached on an error, and Varitek struck out swinging. Up came Millar, who fell behind and fouled back a fastball clocked at 99 m.p.h.

Jenks, who has a devastating, but inconsistent, curveball, threw Millar two, and the suddenly surging first baseman doubled the second off the wall in left, sending Nixon to third. Tony Graffanino fouled off a pitch at 98, then looked -- somewhat alarmed -- as a pitch at 97 bounced in the dirt. On 1-and-1, Jenks slowed a pitch down, throwing an 89 m.p.h. slider, and Graffanino launched it over the Sports Authority sign for a three-run homer.

But Gabe Kapler grounded out, ending another day of trial and error for the Boston pitching staff.

Asked to assess his performance, Schilling instead answered, ''It's September. We need to win."

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