Red Sox 6, Devil Rays 0

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BOSTON (AP)—The hardest ball hit against Curt Schilling may have been a first-inning single off his foot.

He shook off that shot by Aubrey Huff—and the first-and-third jam with one out that it created—and pitched his best game since joining the Red Sox last November.

“My heart was in my throat,” Boston manager Terry Francona said after Wednesday night’s 6-0 win over the Tampa Bay Devil Rays. “He did really pitch (well) after that.”

Schilling (3-1) handled the pain and the next two batters, getting Robert Fick on a pop-up and striking out Tino Martinez.

“It hit me good,” Schilling said. “Once I started walking around, I felt fine. It got a little sore as the game went on.”

He struck out eight, walked none and allowed five hits in 7 1-3 innings as Boston extended its scoreless streak to 23 innings and its winning streak to four games.

“I think that was his best game,” said catcher Jason Varitek, who had three RBIs with a two-run homer and a bases-loaded single. “It was a key getting out of that first inning.”

Schilling struck out the side in the seventh, ending the inning with a called third strike against Toby Hall on a 97 mph fastball.

“I’d never seen him pitch,” Tampa Bay manager Lou Piniella said. “He’s very impressive.”

On his 106th pitch, Schilling retired Rey Sanchez on a fly to center leading off the eighth. Alan Embree relieved and Schilling left to a standing ovation with a 5-0 lead.

Embree retired the two batters he faced and Lenny DiNardo pitched a perfect ninth, stretching the bullpen’s scoreless streak top 26 1-3 innings as Boston improved to 13-6, the best record in the majors.

“The bullpen is the reason we are where we are,” Schilling said.

Varitek’s two-run homer in the fourth broke an 0-for-17 slump, and he added an RBI single in the three-run seventh. Bill Mueller added an RBI double in the eighth.

The Red Sox last played Sunday, when they wrapped up a three-game sweep of the Yankees in New York with a 2-0 win. They were off Monday, and Tuesday night’s game against Tampa Bay was rained out.

“Our team was a little flat to start the game after two days off,” Johnny Damon said. “It took us a couple of innings and, after seeing the kind of performance that Schilling was going to put out, we felt pretty comfortable.”

Schilling bounced back from his worst start with Boston, a 7-3 loss at Toronto last Thursday in which he gave up seven runs on 13 hits, including a grand slam to Chris Gomez in the eighth.

In his other three starts this season, he gave up at least six hits each time. His performance Wednesday lowered his ERA from 4.18 to 3.31.

“When he’s ahead of the count, he’s pretty much in a comfort zone,” Tampa Bay’s Carl Crawford said. “If you don’t get him early, you’re not going to score a lot of runs.”

The Red Sox scored twice in the fourth on Varitek’s one-out homer—his third of the season—off Paul Abbott (2-2) after Manny Ramirez’s double.

Boston added three runs in the seventh starting with Varitek’s RBI single after Mueller singled, David Ortiz doubled and Ramirez was walked intentionally. Mark Bellhorn followed with a two-run single.

Schilling allowed singles to two of the first three batters, but gave up just three more hits after that.

Schilling gave up a two-out single to Hall in the second, then retired six straight before Julio Lugo’s two-out double in the fourth. He ended that inning by striking out Jose Cruz Jr.

He then retired eight straight before Lugo singled with one out in theseventh.

Notes

Schilling’s eight strikeouts tied him for 21st on the career list with Bob Feller at 2,581. … Bellhorn leads the AL with 21 walks after two more Wednesday. … In their careers against Schilling, Martinez is 2-for-16 and Cruz is 2-for-28. … Ortiz extended his streak to eight games with anextra-base hit.

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