Curt Schilling was feeling pretty good after throwing eight strong innings Friday night.

“This is better than I’ve ever been,” said Schilling.

Quite a statement for a guy who has 195 career Major League wins.

Red Sox Nation is wondering if the Sox are better than they’ve ever been. We’ve been hearing about pitching and defense all winter long.

Pep talk is coming to a fruition now.

After beating the Mariners 2-1 in the series opener, the Sox had won three games when scoring three runs or fewer.

That’s as many as they won all of last season scoring so few runs.

Incredibly, the best news for the Red Sox came off the field.

General Manager Theo Epstein locked up two key parts of the teams future, signing David Ortiz and Coco Crisp to contract extensions. Before these deals, the Sox didn’t have a single contract on the books beyond 2008; now, they’ve got the game’s best clutch hitter, and a dynamic center fielder locked up through 2010.

“We think investing in Coco Crisp is a wise move on behalf of the organization,” Epstein said at the press conference announcing the Crisp deal. “This provides us with a little bit of cost certainty going forward and the flexibility now to have him for five years including this year, if we want, and not have to deal with free agency.

“We just couldn’t be happier as an organization to have him representing us on and off the field. In the short time we’ve gotten to know him, we really think he’s going to be a great fit and adds a lot to the mix.”

The announcement was good news for Sox fans — even if they have to wait a few weeks to see Coco in action again. Crisp has been everything we’d hoped, and more. We’ve seen him hit, field, and steal bases.

We’ve seen Ortiz get the job done for more than three sesaons now. He’s become the face of Major League Baseball, arguably the most popular player in the game. It’s refreshing to know he’ll be calling Fenway home for years to come.

“These are the two contracts we were working on during spring training — David Ortiz and Coco,” said Epstein. “So I’m glad we got those worked out. I think we’ve made a concerted effort recently to acquire players who were improving, on the upswing.”

Watching Jonathan Papelbon close out Friday’s win – his fifth save in as many opportunities – it’s hard not to daydream about a young, exciting baseball team stocked with young arms contending for the AL crown for many years to come. Papelbon is already making a big impact, and pitchers like Jon Lester, Craig Hansen, and Manny Delcarmen aren’t far behind.

This is the Red Sox vision of the future. The front office believes it can have this young core of talent under its control for years to come. The team would then be able to add key free agents to round out the team. It wouldn’t have to overpay for aging superstars.

The 2006 season is off to a great start. The plans to keep this team competitive for a very long time are off to a great start, too.

Lewiston native Tom Caron covers the Red Sox for NESN.