OAKLAND, Calif. (AP)—Maybe the next time a Boston pitcher takes a no-hit bid into the ninth inning, he’ll listen to catcher Jason Varitek.
Curt Schilling came within one out of his first career no-hitter Thursday, losing his bid when Shannon Stewart lined a clean single to right field after Schilling shook off his catcher. Schilling finished with a one-hitter as the Red Sox beat the Oakland Athletics 1-0.
“We get two outs, and I was sure, and I had a plan, and I shook Tek off,” Schilling said. “And I get a big `What if?’ for the rest of my life.”
It was not the first time a Boston pitcher shook off Varitek in the ninth inning only to see a no-hitter get broken up. Pedro Martinez did it Aug. 29, 2000, against Tampa Bay, giving up a single to John Flaherty on a fastball instead of the curve that Varitek called for.
Schilling said he called off Varitek between five and 10 times, saying it “was one time too many.”
“Hindsight is always 20-20,” Varitek said. “It wasn’t the first time he shook off all game. We had like a half-dozen. It doesn’t really matter. He made a quality pitch. If he didn’t make a quality pitch then you can second guess.”
Having called fastballs to the first two batters, Varitek called for a first-pitch slider to Stewart. Schilling wanted to throw a fastball.
“I was sure he was taking, and Tek was sure he was swinging,” Schilling said. “And I was wrong.”
With a strong contingent of Red Sox fans cheering on at the Coliseum, Stewart lined the first pitch through the hole between first and second for Oakland’s only hit.
Stewart said he was expecting the take sign when he came up, but when he was given the go-ahead to swing away, he did just that.
“You never want to get no-hit,” Stewart said. “The bottom line is we lost the game. Nobody is happy about that.”
Schilling’s teammates in the dugout and many of the fans gave him a standing ovation after the hit, and he paced behind the mound for a short time, trying to gather his composure and not lose more than a no-hitter. Schilling retired Mark Ellis on a foul popout to end the third one-hitter of his career.
He also accomplished the feat in 1992 against the New York Mets and 10 years later against Milwaukee. He lost those bids early—in the third inning against the Brewers, the fifth against the Mets.
The 40-year-old would have been the fourth-oldest pitcher pitch a no-hitter. Nolan Ryan did it as a 43- and 44-year old, Cy Young was 41 when he pitched a no-hitter for the Red Sox in 1908; and Randy Johnson was 40 years, 8 months when he pitched a perfect game in 2004.
Schilling had twice before taken no-hit bids into the eighth inning, losing one famously when San Diego’s Ben Davis bunted for a hit with one out in the eighth inning to break up a perfect game in 2001. Schilling warned his teammates to look out for a bunt in the late innings of this game.
Schilling was a model of efficiency, pounding the strike zone reaching a three-ball count only once. He got the A’s to hit routine fly balls to the spacious Coliseum outfield, recording 12 of his outs in the air. He also struck out four in the 100-pitch outing—his first shutout since May 14, 2003, for Arizona against Philadelphia, and first complete game since 2004.
“It was fun,” Schilling said. “It was 1-0 the whole day, so that kind of alleviates thinking about anything else. In a 1-0 game, you’re trying to stay away from a tie.”
Only one of those fly balls came close to a hit before the ninth. But Coco Crisp made a nice running catch before crashing into the wall in front of the 400-foot sign in center field to rob Kotsay of an extra-base hit leading off the sixth inning.
“That’s kind of when I said, ‘This might actually happen,”’ Schilling said.
Schilling, who had just one win in his previous five starts, retired his first 14 batters before Dan Johnson’s two-out grounder in the fifth inning handcuffed Julio Lugo for an error. Schilling got out of the inning by getting Marco Scutaro on a fly ball to right field. Other than Kotsay’s drive in the sixth, the A’s didn’t come close to getting a baserunner until Stewart’s hit in the ninth.
“He was on all day,” Johnson said. “We was really working the zone. He had it going.”
Blanton was nearly as stingy as Schilling, allowing only the homer to Ortiz. The Red Sox threatened again in the seventh, putting runners on first and third with one out. But Blanton got Alex Cora to foul out and Coco Crisp on a comebacker. Blanton allowed one run and four hits in 7 1-3 innings.
Two Boston pitchers have thrown no-hitters against the A’s: Howard Ehmke on Sept. 7, 1923, and Young on May 5, 1904. … Metallica drummer Lars Ulrich threw out the ceremonial first pitch. … The A’s were looking for their first four-game sweep at home against the Red Sox since May 19-21, 1932, when they played in Philadelphia.