NEW YORK -- The problems were competing, a crisis of confidence compounded by an unnerving lack of execution. Or was it the other way around? Underperformance, chipping away, slowly but surely, at the righthander's self-esteem?
''It's the chicken/egg theory," Curt Schilling explained yesterday afternoon. ''Which one comes first? You've got to have one with the other. When you don't have either you tend to struggle."
And he had. But yesterday was different. On a magnificent late-summer day in the House That Ruth Built, the place Schilling turned into a House of Blues last October, the former Sox ace pitched like the former Sox ace.
When his team needed him most this season, the day after an ugly loss that drew the Yankees within three games of the division lead, Schilling allowed only one hit through six innings and only five hits total in eight innings, exiting with his team ahead, 9-2, as it would end, before 55,076 who heckled Schilling for the proper reason.
''The hostility, I've always enjoyed it, because I've never felt they boo players that [stink]," Schilling said. ''When you come in here, there's a different kind of adrenaline. It's always helped me focus."
That showed, on a day his team backed him up with two runs in the first inning on a long-awaited Manny Ramirez homer (his first in 63 at-bats), and six runs in a fourth inning in which John Olerud led off with an upper-deck homer and later made the inning's last out.
How did it show? Take Schilling's fastball. Working at 91 and 92 miles per hour out of the bullpen this summer, with the occasional but rarely located heater at 93 or 94, Schilling hit 96 yesterday for the first time this season. It was only one pitch in the third inning, but when it flashed on the scoreboard in center field, it served noticed that the big guy with the big ERA was here to compete.
Of course, that was already evident. Schilling, who'd worked only three 1-2-3 innings his previous 17 1/3 innings this season, went through the first three Yankees he faced yesterday in eight pitches. He worked an impeccable second inning in nine pitches.
''I'm thinking nine innings at that point," he said.
And, he had a 1-2-3 third inning going, too, until Olerud made a throwing error flipping to Schilling covering first with two outs.
He didn't allow a hit until Jason Giambi launched a full-count fastball (scoreboard reading: 95 m.p.h) into the thin-air seats in right in the fourth. Schilling, in fact, threw an inordinate number of fastballs in the early innings, helping to set up the Yankees with offspeed stuff as the game progressed.
And, he regained something utterly necessary: the bite on his splitter. His marquee pitch, recently knocked around by the likes of the Devil Rays, was dipping and diving, eluding the bats of Ruben Sierra twice and Bernie Williams once for three of Schilling's six strikeouts. ''I knew it was coming," catcher Jason Varitek said of Schilling's sharpness. ''Believed it was coming."
Schilling made mistakes, to be sure. But, he got away with them more than he had previously because his fastball was livelier, hitters forced to be more honest. The only negative yesterday: The Yankees submitted their B+ lineup, a batting order devoid of Gary Sheffield (strained thigh muscle) and Jorge Posada, who jammed a shoulder in the home-plate collision with Varitek Friday night.
In their place, Schilling got John Flaherty and Matt Lawton, who hit in the last two spots in the order and went a combined 0 for 6 with a walk against the Sox righthander.
The Sox, meanwhile, were without Johnny Damon, who had a cortisone injection Friday as he continues to nurse an ailing left shoulder. But that became of little consequence, and quickly.
David Ortiz -- who will sit out today with a sore back, and probably a sore ego (he's 2 for 14 against today's Yankees starter Randy Johnson) -- helped begin yesterday's offensive onslaught.
Ortiz, behind, 0 and 2, against starter Shawn Chacon, worked a first-inning walk, and Ramirez followed with a prolific blast to left center. That snapped his homerless streak at 62 at-bats, seven at-bats shy of tying a season high. Ramirez's 34th homer and 118th and 119th RBIs provided a 2-0 lead on the first of 16 Boston hits. The Sox, in fact, outhit the Yankees, 16-6.
They poured it on in the fourth, when Chacon exited without recording a single out.
Olerud led off with a homer, his seventh, this one into Row 2 of the upper deck. He now has four home runs and 10 RBIs in 21 September at-bats.
The procession of base runners and runs then commenced in earnest: Bill Mueller singled. Gabe Kapler singled, knocking out Chacon. Tony Graffanino (3 for 5 in Damon's leadoff spot) welcomed Felix Rodriguez by singling, loading the bases.
Edgar Renteria, up next, worked the count full but grounded back to the mound. Some in the press box were already writing down ''1-2-3 DP" in their scorebooks when Rodriguez uncorked a low and wide throw that almost eluded Flaherty at home. He caught it for the forceout but had to settle for one out.
Al Leiter, making his second relief appearance of the season and first as a Yankee, came in for Rodriguez. Ortiz immediately skied a fly ball to left. In an ideal Yankee world, the double play would have been converted, and Ortiz's fly ball would have ended the inning at Boston 3, New York 0.
Instead, the usually flawless Hideki Matsui struggled to read the ball in the wind and dropped it. Kapler scored. Ramirez then singled, scoring Graffanino. Trot Nixon singled, scoring Renteria and Ortiz. Varitek grounded out, plating Ramirez.
Boston 8, New York 0.
Finally, Olerud flied to deep center, the 10th batter of the inning. Schilling had sat for 26 minutes as the Sox pounded Yankee pitching, and it showed. He went to 3 and 2 in the bottom of the inning to Giambi, who got a straight fastball and hit it a ton for his 28th homer.
But that cut it to just 8-1, and the Yankees would come no closer than seven runs down. Today, the Sox can make the AL East lead five games, or leave here, at worst, up three, with 20 to play.
''This [was] a big swing game," Schilling said. ''This late in the season, that's a big deal."
And so was his outing.
''I thought this was by far the best," said manager Terry Francona of Schilling's four starts since rejoining the rotation. ''He's got a fair chance now to be himself."