In his first opportunity as the closer, Curt Schilling created excitement around Fenway Park last night with a perfect 1-2-3 ninth inning to earn his first save in almost 13 years, preserving a 5-2 Red Sox win over the Tampa Bay Devil Rays before 35,428.
Schilling walked out to the bullpen along with Doug Mirabelli at the start of the seventh to a big ovation and after Mike Timlin wiggled out of a jam in the eighth and Bronson Arroyo went seven strong innings, it was time to see what the team’s new closer could do.
With Schilling warming up in the top of the eighth, the Sox added two more runs on John Olerud’s grounder, scoring Manny Ramirez, and Bill Mueller’s single to right, which scored Jason Varitek.
It was good timing for both Arroyo and Schilling’s performances, although Timlin, who gave up a double to Carl Crawford, picked off the speedster.
Schilling was scheduled to face the bottom of the Devil Rays’ order in the ninth. He fell behind, 2 and 0, to right fielder Jonny Gomes, but came back with a called first strike, a swinging strike to even the count, then zipped a 94-mile-per-hour fastball by Gomes.
No. 8 hitter Fernando Cortez fell behind, 0 and 1, then lined out to Ramirez in left field.
The crowd started to sense a save and stood to watch No. 9 hitter Toby Hall attempt to hit Schilling, who was throwing hard. On the second pitch, he got Hall to pop up in foul territory to Olerud to end the game.
Schilling was congratulated by his teammates as the Sox finally ended a stretch of losses in four of the last five games.
The Sox, held to only three hits Monday night, got enough offense on eight hits to sustain a strong effort by Arroyo, who improved to 8-5.
The Sox really needed a shutdown performance from Arroyo. In the first inning, the Devil Rays scored on Jorge Cantu’s single to center. But Arroyo settled down and didn’t allow another hit until the sixth, when Julio Lugo lined a two-out double off the wall in left-center.
In the fifth, Arroyo walked Gomes and Cortez reached on Olerud’s error, but Kevin Cash grounded into an inning-ending double play.
The Sox mounted a two-out rally in the first inning when David Ortiz started off with a hustle double to left-center and advanced to third on a passed ball. Ramirez was hit by a pitch, though the replay showed the ball bounced before hitting Ramirez. Batting righthanded against the lefthanded Casey Fossum, Varitek came through with a single to left.
Ramirez’s 25th homer to left field led off the fourth inning. It marked the 11th consecutive year Ramirez has hit 25 or more homers. Up 2-1, the Sox added one more in the fifth, again a two-out rally in which Johnny Damon, Edgar Renteria, and Ortiz hit consecutive singles to produce the third run.
Fossum left with leg cramps after Ortiz’s single, likely the result of dehydration.
Arroyo, who entered last night’s game with 4.14 ERA, had been having problems at Fenway. In eight starts, he was 1-3 with a 4.61 ERA. Arroyo had a no-decision last Thursday when Schilling allowed a two-run homer to the Yankees’ Alex Rodriguez in the ninth to break a 6-6 tie.
Arroyo got a tough break in the seventh as the Devil Rays made it a one-run game at 3-2. Renteria dropped a perfect throw from second baseman Alex Cora, who had made a nice diving stop of Cortez’s hard-hit grounder, allowing Aubrey Huff, who had started the inning with a single, to score. It was Renteria’s 18th error of the season. With runners at first and second, Arroyo struck out pinch hitter Damon Hollins and then escaped further damage when Joey Gathright flied to center.
Arroyo was done after seven, throwing 102 pitches and leaving a one-run lead to the bullpen. Timlin relieved him in the eighth, and although he allowed three hits, he got out unscathed.