As sure things go, Curt Schilling winning at Fenway Park may be trumped by a tension level approaching DEFCON status for this afternoon's finale between the Red Sox and Athletics.
The Sox may not be aware until they stumble out of bed this morning about how agitated the folks in the Oakland dugout were by the end of last night's 7-0 whitewashing, in which Schilling (7-0 in the Fens this season) limited the A's to two hits in seven innings -- a pair of singles in the second -- but evidently raised the temperature of an already warm evening when he hit Nick Swisher in the back with a pitch in the sixth.
Given that Schilling's momentary lapse of control came a half-inning after A's starter Dan Haren had stung Jason Varitek with a pitch in the back of the leg, prompting a warning to both benches by plate umpire Mike Reilly, the A's were in no mood to be forgiving, although retaliation under the circumstances hardly seemed unprecedented. But the A's still were charged by the events of the night before, when Mark Kotsay was buzzed and Frank Thomas was hit by Sox pitcher Craig Breslow an inning after Sox slugger David Ortiz was decked by an up-and-in pitch by Barry Zito.
Haren called it ``bush league," adding, ``I guess that's how they do things around here."
A's manager Ken Macha gave Reilly an earful after Swisher was plunked. Swisher warned that things could get interesting today.
``We were watching the tape on David Ortiz," Macha told reporters in his office after the game. ``I mean, if they hit Frank because Barry hit the guy in the fingertip, come on. Let's play baseball . . . You know how I go about this thing. What we ought to do is just let Major League Baseball take care of this."
Further adding to the ill will coursing through the visitors' clubhouse was the conduct of the spectators in the sellout crowd of 36,232 who were sitting behind the Oakland dugout and became involved in an exchange with right fielder Milton Bradley, who was standing on the top step of the dugout while Macha was barking at Reilly.
Bradley, who at one point raised his arms overhead, refused to discuss the nature of the exchange, one that prompted at least four extra security guards to swarm into the vicinity and remain there the rest of the game. Bradley, who has a history of volatile incidents in previous stops with the Indians and Dodgers but has not had any major behavioral issues with the A's, was subjected to some chanting and booing the rest of the night.
``There were a lot of people upset, not just Milton," Macha said. ``Wash [bench coach Ron Washington] was upset. I was upset. There was a bunch of people upset."
Nothing came close to troubling Schilling in a game that featured another Sox staple, a home run by Ortiz, his major league-leading 32d of the season.
Schilling (11-3) took extra satisfaction in ending the Sox' three-game losing streak, enabling them to maintain their 1 1/2-game advantage over the Yankees in the American League East. The Sox had not lost three straight at Fenway Park since July 16-18, 2005.
``I'm aware of what's going on and how things are," said Schilling, who was not asked about hitting Swisher before he left the premises wearing the same black shirt he's worn for most of his Fenway starts. His kids, he said, are choosing his wardrobe when he's home and have apparently decided they've picked a lucky garment. ``We got clobbered last night and our bullpen's taxed a little bit and I know this is what they pay me to do.
``They pay me to go out there, and on nights like tonight give our offense the chance to put the pressure on, and the offense came out early and did that."
Leave it to Ortiz to also provide one of the night's rarer sightings -- a stand-up triple, the big blow in a four-run third that gave Schilling a five-run cushion. Ortiz, who came to the plate after a broken-bat single by Kevin Youkilis and a walk to Mark Loretta, ripped a line drive down the right-field line that caromed past Bradley and rattled around the corner, allowing Ortiz to claim the 10th three-bagger of his career and first since June 19, 2005, against the Pirates here.
``I love to see those arms pumping as he comes around second," manager Terry Francona said. ``It's the funniest thing. He was high-fiving those kids [by the Sox dugout]. I don't think he was high-fiving them, I think he was hanging onto them."
Schilling is 7-0 with a 2.41 ERA at Fenway Park this season, matching Roy Halladay of the Blue Jays for most wins by a pitcher working in his own backyard. Throw away last season, when he tried unsuccessfully to get by on a bad ankle, and Schilling is 19-1 at the Fens since signing with the Red Sox before the 2004 season. Hard to imagine now that the conversation at the Schilling household Thanksgiving 2003, when extra plates were set out for general manager Theo Epstein and his aide, Jed Hoyer, revolved around whether a fly-ball pitcher like Schilling would ever feel at home in Fenway.
The 2006 model of Schilling, the one who has incorporated a variety of cutters, sinkers, and breaking balls into his repertoire, produced only three fly-ball outs among the 21 he recorded last night. He struck out nine A's, walking just one, and the other nine outs came via ground balls ( one a double play started by third baseman Mike Lowell).
Schilling made the A's resemble the team they came to town as -- the majors' worst hitting bunch at .245 -- instead of the team that had slapped around Sox pitching for 15 runs on 16 hits the night before in winning their second straight game.
Oakland's only two hits off Schilling were Thomas's line single to open the second and a ground-ball single by Bradley. Schilling afterward lavished praise on Varitek. Last Sunday in Chicago, the pitcher said he asked Varitek to take over calling his game.
``Jason was incredible tonight," Schilling said. ``It was, from the first to the last pitch, as well-called a game as I've had in a while."
The Sox took a 1-0 lead in the second when Manny Ramírez doubled and scored on Lowell's double. Ramírez singled twice while Lowell doubled twice -- his sixth game this season with at least two doubles. Lowell knocked in another run with a sacrifice fly, and scored the sixth run on Alex Cora's two-out single in the seventh.
After Ortiz's two-run triple made it 3-0, Ramírez singled him home, took third on Trot Nixon's base hit, and scored on Lowell's sacrifice fly.
Ortiz's home run in the eighth, which landed in the Sox bullpen, came off former Sox lefty Scott Sauerbeck and kept him ahead of the White Sox' Jim Thome for the league lead, Thome having homered in Yankee Stadium earlier in the day.