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Red Sox get off on right foot against Texas

Newcomer Coco Crisp is Johnny on the spot as he makes a leaping grab to rob Laynce Nix of an extra-base hit in the ninth.
Newcomer Coco Crisp is Johnny on the spot as he makes a leaping grab to rob Laynce Nix of an extra-base hit in the ninth. (Globe Staff Photo / Matthew J. Lee)

ARLINGTON, Texas -- In seven spring games against assorted minor leaguers, Boston College, and the Pittsburgh Pirates, not a single Curt Schilling pitch eclipsed 94 miles per hour, and few even touched that number. For three innings against the Texas Rangers yesterday, the big righthander again held steady, operating between 90 and 93.

And then, inexplicably, even to Schilling himself, it came, the stuff that made Schilling a power pitcher, not the guy who in camp was hitting people in the helmet attempting to retake the inner half of the plate while also teaching himself a changeup, both apparent attempts at remaking himself at age 39.

With one down in the fourth inning, Schilling dialed it up to 94, getting Phil Nevin to line out. Ahead, 0 and 2, on the next batter, Hank Blalock, Schilling unleashed one at 95 that Blalock swung through. With two down in the fifth, and the count 2-and-2 on Brad Wilkerson, Schilling painted one at 96, a borderline pitch that umpire Gary Darling determined to be south of the border. Still, Schilling went back to the heat, got Wilkerson to pop out, and kept bringing it.

By day's end, he'd thrown three fastballs at 96, five at 95, and eight at 94, among his 117 pitches, in leading the Red Sox to a commanding 7-3 Opening Day win (the club's first since 2000) before 51,541, the largest gathering ever at Ameriquest Field.

''This," Jason Varitek said of Schilling's rather astonishing day (7 IP, 5 H, 2 R, 1 BB, 5 K's, 1 HR), ''will stop a lot of questions. Curt set the tone for us, big-time."

So did David Ortiz, banging a fifth-inning Kevin Millwood offspeed pitch high off the yellow stick in right, and later doubling to the wall in right-center, knocking in another run. And, for one day at least, what played out here answered several questions about the offseason acquisitions. Six of the nine players in yesterday's lineup did not start on Opening Day 2005, and most of the newbies stood up to be counted.

Coco Crisp, after taking Millwood fastballs and taking a seat in the first and third innings, reached in the fifth and seventh, and scored from first both times. Mark Loretta, the 12th Sox second baseman to start on Opening Day since 1994, doubled to the wall in right-center in the fifth, knocking in Crisp. Mike Lowell, who last season had only two home runs as late as June 9, lined a ball an estimated 364 feet to left in the eighth for his first career Opening Day home run.

''To get him off on the right foot is good, to get him back to Boston to let people warm up to him," manager Terry Francona said. ''Because he's going to be an important part of our success."

''Since Day 1," said Lowell, ''I've said I believe I'm the player of six years ago, not last year."

Even Alex Gonzalez, who went 6 for March, laced two balls for opposite-field singles.

''This," Schilling said, ''was some guys coming as advertised."

Schilling himself came far better than advertised. When they cut open his abused ankle in November 2004, the doctors told Schilling he'd need 18 full months to recover. Last year he was average (8-8, 5.69 ERA), and this spring he allowed six runs on 10 hits in his only two big-league starts. Yesterday, 17 months removed from a Mass. General table, Schilling was pitching with command.

He'd never pitched in this Texas launching pad, and he was taking the ball on Opening Day for the sixth time, but first time with the Red Sox. Neither factor seemed to faze him. He fanned the first batters he faced, Wilkerson and batting champion Michael Young, both on 93 m.p.h. fastballs. He didn't allow a runner until the ninth hitter singled. The 1-4 hitters (Wilkerson, Young, Mark Teixeira, Nevin) went 2 for 15 off Schilling. The 5-7 hitters (Blalock, Kevin Mench, and Laynce Nix) went 1 for 9, the only blemish being the two-run laser Blalock shot just over the wall in right in the sixth, to cut the Sox' lead to 5-2.

The Sox sent seven batters to the plate in a neverending seventh inning, in which Buck Showalter used three pitchers who allowed four hits and one run. Despite the lengthy wait, and Schilling's pitch count (he was sitting on 98), Francona rolled him back out. Schilling recorded a 1-2-3 seventh, and hit 96 m.p.h. on his 116th, and second-to-last, pitch.

''It's nice that he has that in the tank," Francona said. ''That's the guy I remember. Late in the game he could reach back for more and get a strikeout when he needed it."

At that point he turned it over to Jonathan Papelbon, who at long last met his idol, Roger Clemens, in a hotel lobby Sunday night. Clemens, who visited with several Sox players and ownership before yesterday's game, was seated near the Rangers dugout.

''That pumped me up a little, to be honest, knowing Roger was in the stands," Papelbon said.

It showed, in Papelbon's velocity (94-95 m.p.h.) and effectiveness. He went through Wilkerson (ground out), Young (strikeout swinging), and Teixeira (fly out) without difficulty.

''Filthy," Schilling said of Papelbon. ''Filthy. He's just got to bide his time down there until he finds a way into the rotation. He's huge down there, though."

Keith Foulke got the ball in the ninth in a non-save situation but with plenty to prove nonetheless. Throwing mostly fastballs because of the significant lead, Foulke touched 88 and 89 m.p.h., which was promising, except for where those fastballs ended up. Blalock stung one to left for a single, and Mench crushed a wheelhouse pitch to the wall in left-center for a double. With two aboard and one out, Nix launched one to deep center, a few steps shy of the wall, but a galloping Crisp leaped and reeled it in.

''Basically, I just ran back and closed my eyes and hoped to catch it," he said. ''Luckily, it went in my glove."

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