"He was pretty good under some tough conditions," said Red Sox manager Terry Francona, who notched his 200th win as Boston's skipper in the process. "He was great. He had to be. There wasn't a whole lot of margin for error."
What little margin there was came from a two-run rally against ageless Mariners lefty Jamie Moyer in the bottom of the fourth. The only runs the Red Sox scored all night came off the bat of No. 9 hitter Alex Gonzalez, who belted a double off the scoreboard in left-center to score Mike Lowell and Dustan Mohr.
Consider that Gonzalez had struggled mightily at the plate entering this one, and wound up going 3-for-4.
"Three hits today, two RBIs. It feels good," Gonzalez said. "I've been working on my swing for the last couple of days, trying to get it back. My swing had been too long. I feel like I got it back tonight and I want to keep it up tomorrow and do the same thing."
But thus far, the biggest change for these Red Sox has been the dramatic turnaround put forth by Schilling. For it is hard not to make note of the consistency Schilling has displayed early this season. He's allowed two runs or less each time out. This time, he went eight innings and allowed three hits while striking out seven and not walking a batter.
Schilling is feeling it right now.
"I feel good, I feel healthy," said Schilling. "I feel like I am better than I have ever been from a performance standpoint."
Jonathan Papelbon, who is swiftly becoming Mr. Automatic for the Red Sox, closed it out in the ninth for his fifth save. Papelbon did give up a single, but he was otherwise unscathed and has yet to be scored on this season.
"He's been doing that every inning he's thrown this year," Schilling said. "He's maturing physically and mentally -- every pitch, every at-bat. He's thinking and he's not thinking too much. He's thinking just enough and he's making adjustments. He's making them on the fly. When you can do them with that stuff, he's going to get better fast and he's done that."
The Red Sox have won seven of their first 10 games, and three of the victories have been by 2-1 score, significant because the 2005 team put up a gruesome record of 3-22 when it scored less than three runs.
"Defensively, we are such a tremendous ballclub," Schilling said. "There is a very different feel about contact from a pitchers standpoint then there has ever been for me. It's the best defense -- our infield defense -- that I have ever pitched in front of -- and that's a big thing."
200 AND COUNTING
|With Friday's win against the Mariners, Terry Francona now has 200 wins as a Red Sox manager. He is the 17th skipper in club history to reach the milestone. Among managers who have spent more than one season in Boston, Francona ranks fourth in winning percentage, posting the best mark since 1951:
Schilling also helped himself on defense to start the top of the fourth, instinctively reaching out with his barehand to snag an Ichiro Suzuki grounder.
While that was the play you'll likely see on the nightly highlight reel, the more significant encounter with Ichiro occurred in the top of the sixth when the Mariners had Jeremy Reed on third with just one out.
With the count 2-2 on one of the best bat handlers in the game, Schilling knew it would take a lot to make Ichiro miss. So he reached back and fired a dead-on splitter for a crucial strikeout.
"That was a huge course of events," said Red Sox catcher Jason Varitek.
And not just for what it meant for the game. But the splitter, a long-trusted ally of Schilling's, had been the one thing he was lacking in his first two starts of the season.
"Warming up for the second inning, I threw my split-finger and everything clicked," Schilling said. "The first two starts, I haven't felt like I've been consistently bearing the pitch well and I didn't feel like I've been throwing it at a good angle. And I threw it and it was exactly what I wanted it to be from a feel standpoint. And mentally, I was like, 'There it is.' From that point on, when I needed a strikeout, I felt very comfortable about command, fastball-wise, and about the fact I could bury my split in the ground."
Schilling basically spent his night grounding Seattle's offense.
"He spots his pitches well and he elevates his whole game when he needs to," said Reed. "He's done that his whole career. I think we battled and put together some good at-bats, but he got us in the end."
Not that the Red Sox had a whole lot of answers for Moyer, either.
"He's just a professional," said Varitek. "Location, location, location, cutter, cutter in, sinker in, he stays away from the middle of that plate. He has a decent changeup and he threw his curveball when he wanted to. He can pitch. He can flat-out pitch."
So, too, can Schilling.
"I wasn't sure what I was going to be this year," Schilling said. "I felt like I'd be good. I didn't know stuff-wise where I would be at. Like I said earlier, I feel like I'm better than I've ever been. I have a slider now, I have a changeup now, I'm pitching in drastically more than I've ever pitched in my career and I think the numbers are showing it."