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Leap year

Crisp's catch vaults Sox to 12th straight

For all the talk about homecomings at Fenway Park this week, the Red Sox graciously allowing they will always leave a light on for Pedro Martínez, there can be no debate that Curt Schilling until further notice remains master of the house.

And with an eighth-inning catch by Coco Crisp that second baseman Mark Loretta dubbed the ``play of the year," a label that might actually shortchange Crisp by a decade or two -- ``I'd have to think real hard about a catch that I've seen that was any better," said Schilling, the 19-year veteran -- the new guy in charge of the center-field lawn may have seized eminent domain of territory that many Sox hearts had bequeathed to his predecessor.

Ol' what's-his-name?

``I don't know, Johnny Damon's a great player and I'm not going to say anything bad about him, because you can't say anything bad about him other than he's a Yankee," Crisp said after launching himself into the lore of unforgettable Fenway moments with a diving catch of David Wright's drive into the left-center-field gap . Crisp closed with 11 magnificent strides, leaving Sox players in various stages of disbelief and a full house of 36,028 in possession of a memory they'll summon for years to come.

``Nobody can forget him," Crisp said, ``but hopefully this will put me in people's minds."

Not to worry, not after Crisp's catch was the difference-maker in a 4-2 victory over the New York Mets that not only completed a three-game sweep and extended the Sox' winning streak to 12 games, their longest run in nearly 11 years, but was about as close to clinical perfection as a game can be. The Red Sox also tied the major league record for consecutive games without an error (16).

``The game was an instructional video," said Schilling (10-2) after winning a duel of 200-game winners, the first seen here in nearly 28 years, with Tom Glavine of the Mets and Billerica. ``The game was an instructional video. Moving runners over. Defensive plays, fundamental baseball. I thought it was incredible. Nobody made a mistake.

``That had to be one of the funnest and most interesting games ever to watch. There were 15 or 16 things in that game, then if you add all the things that I saw, where we threw pitches where I knew three pitches before the pitch that I was going to throw before I got to that count, and we got to that count and [Jason Varitek] called that pitch and the guy did exactly what we thought he was going to do.

``That's the best I've felt by far. That's exciting to me, that it's coming now. The new split is working, so it's exciting."

For five innings, the game was scoreless. Schilling gave up a leadoff bunt single to Jose Reyes, then kept him close enough to the bag with several sharp throws, allowing Varitek to throw him out. ``That was huge," Schilling said. ``It changes everything. When a team like that loses its ability to force the pace of a game, that's a weapon they have and we exploited it."

Glavine, meanwhile, got ground ball after ground ball.

``They matched each other pitch for pitch," Loretta said. ``They both had excellent location. They were both hitting spots. They were both putting on clinics on how to pitch."

Julio Franco, the old man of the Mets, doubled in the fourth, but was picked off second, Schilling to Loretta. ``Daylight play," Schilling said. ``I saw the glove, and I reacted."

The Mets broke through in the sixth on a single by Paul Lo Duca and a home run by Carlos Beltran, his 22d of the season and the first allowed by Schilling at home (49 innings) this season.

The Sox countered quickly in the home half. Loretta, who had walked and singled, hit a changeup into the Monster seats, his third home run. ``I've faced him a lot," Loretta said. ``I finally stayed back on a changeup."

David Ortiz followed with a double, and Glavine was gone after walking Manny Ramírez, 102 pitches enough for this night.

Ortiz then put his monster-truck wheels in motion to help the Sox to their second run, hustling to third on Mike Lowell's fly ball, then strolling home on Varitek's fly.

In the seventh, textbook baseball: Crisp laid down a bunt single off Aaron Heilman, stole second, took third on Alex Gonzalez's sacrifice bunt , and scored on Kevin Youkilis's fly ball.

Ortiz later greeted Mets reliever Duaner Sanchez with his 23d home run, deep into the center-field bleachers, giving closer Jonathan Papelbon a two-run cushion to record his 24th save, one that drew him even with the Monster, Dick Radatz, for most ever by a Sox rookie.

Mike Timlin entered in the eighth, gave up a two-out single to Beltran, then watched Wright, the Mets' wunderkind, launch his drive to left-center.

``From where I was, it was a sure double," Loretta said. ``I'm thinking, ` All right, it's tied. ' I'm already setting up the scenario. Man on second, man on third, whatever it's going to be. Coco came out of nowhere."

The ball was behind him when he caught it, Schilling said, watching on the clubhouse TV.

``I think that's the most excited I've been watching something happen when I've been on the field," Loretta said.

He wasn't alone.

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