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Schilling again provides right answers

BALTIMORE -- If many of the questions about Curt Schilling's readiness for this season were answered when he allowed just two runs to the Texas Rangers to open the season, a good deal of the rest were dealt with after his stifling performance in Camden Yards last night. It wasn't just a one-night showing. The dominant Schilling of 2004, and prior, may be back.

''I don't think he had to answer anything for me," said Sox manager Terry Francona. ''As long as he's healthy, he's a good pitcher. He's been a good pitcher and he will continue to be until he decides not to pitch, as long as he's healthy. And he's very healthy. I understand what happened last year and we all know why. But he's too good a pitcher not to be good."

Throwing a tidy seven innings on 114 pitches (72 for strikes), Schilling allowed just a run on three hits and two walks in Boston's 2-1 win over Baltimore, and benefited from Manny Ramírez's nice running catch on Jeff Conine's drive in the second inning.

''I said during spring training there were things I was going to work on and pitching in was one of them," Schilling said. ''Tonight I probably pitched in more than any start I've done in my career. We had a game plan going in and we executed it."

His only real mistake came on an 86-mile-per-hour splitter to begin the sixth inning. Luis Matos didn't miss it, smacking a home run to left-center, slicing Schilling's lead to 2-1. Coming into the game, Matos had never been retired by Schilling. Granted, it was in only two career at-bats.

Schilling didn't allow further damage, getting Brian Roberts to fly to Ramírez, Nick Markakis to strike out looking (only Schilling's second strikeout, though he finished with four), and Melvin Mora to pop to first base. So much for Schilling tiring.

He reached back for a little extra in the seventh, throwing a 94-m.p.h. heater to Jay Gibbons, before striking him out swinging.

''When I left spring training, [I said] that I had to go out and do it in games that mattered," Schilling said. ''The stuff has been there. I felt, in the seventh inning, velocity-wise when I had to have it, I had it. That's a big boost.

''In spring training, when I reached back to make pitches, I gave up location. When I'm going right in big situations, I've always felt like I didn't have to give away location if I was mentally where I needed to be."

Schilling got the perfect ending for his outing. With his pitch count mounting, and Javy Lopez and Miguel Tejada on first and second, Schilling unleashed a 96-m.p.h. fastball -- his best of the night -- to Conine. Foul tip, caught by Jason Varitek, resulting in a Schilling fist pump into his glove, a roar from the many Red Sox fans in the crowd, and the rest of the night off for Boston's ace. It was now up to Mike Timlin and Jonathan Papelbon -- the same duo that saved Josh Beckett's win in Texas Wednesday -- to hold the same lead. Which they did.

The best part, though, might be the biggest difference from last season. Schilling is throwing inside. He's throwing his splitter (other than that one to Matos) ''better," according to him. And he's not talking about his ankle.

''I haven't even asked him about his ankle," Francona said. ''That's a nice relief. He's out there competing and he's strong. He looks really good to me. He had a nice, strong outing in Texas and he backs it up with one where I thought he threw the ball better. I think the more he gets into this season, I think you'll see his confidence grow, too."

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