The New York Yankees’ clubhouse reportedly erupted in cheers after Shannon Stewart slapped a single to right field to break up Curt Schilling’s no-hitter with two outs in the ninth on Thursday.

Let’s give the poor little boys a break. They’ve had so little to cheer about this year. And you have to believe that deep down, every single one of those overpaid pinstripers would kill to have someone with Schilling’s guts on their pitching staff.

The world’s highest-paid baseball blogger re-established himself as the ace of the Red Sox Thursday. I know, his numbers aren’t anywhere near Josh Beckett’s. He has looked his age on two or three occasions this season.

But what is an “ace.” It’s the guy you want with the ball in the biggest games, right? Well, Thursday’s game was big, maybe the biggest so far this year.

The Red Sox had been dragging ever since the dopey schedule-maker forced them to play Sunday night against the Yankees, then immediately hop on a cross-country flight and play the next night in Oakland. Their bats had been silent. The presence of the two human rally killers, Julio Lugo and J.D. Drew, was finally catching up to them. It seemed like they’d grounded into more double plays their first three nights in Oakland than Jim Rice did in his entire career. They’d made Lenny DiNardo and Joe Kennedy look like Vida Blue and Catfish Hunter, and now they were about to face a legitimate starter in Joe Blanton with a four-game sweep hanging over their heads.

All that stood between them and a disastrous start to an arduous month of June (check their jet-setting schedule) was Schilling, who had a less-than-inspiring 5.00 ERA in his last three outings. If we’ve learned anything about him so far this year, it’s that the days of him being able to crank his fastball consistently into the mid-90s are pretty much gone. That’s to be expected with a pitcher of his age who has had major ankle surgery. What’s been more disturbing has been his inability at times to command the strike zone, for prolonged stretches.

Schilling had full command of his pitches Thursday. He wasn’t overpowering (four Ks), but he mixed things up well and pitched to contact. He let the hitters get themselves out. That takes focus, especially when his offense isn’t clicking and it’s becoming increasingly apparent over the course of the game that David Ortiz’s first-inning homer is all he’s going to get.

The ninth inning pretty much summed up Curt Schilling. He went out to the mound with a plan, which he always does. He threw nothing but fastballs to get the first two guys out and he’d already made up his mind he was going to stick with the heat when Shannon Stewart stepped in. He shook off Jason Varitek, who called for a slider, and threw his pitch.

But he left it up, and Stewart was ready for it. Schilling bowed his head for a moment, then got back on the rubber. Stewart was the tying run, and for him to come around to score in this situation would have meant more than just a tie game.

Schilling knew this, even while everyone else in the park, including the announcers, was still lamenting his lost shot, and possibly his last shot, at history. He went after Mark Ellis as he had the previous 28 batters and got him to pop up. Game over. Losing streak over. On to Arizona with a fresh start.

Josh Beckett has his own big-game credentials (see 2003 World Series, Game 6), but I can’t say for certain he would have kept his focus and composure in that situation. That is why No. 38 is still the ace, and will be until further notice.


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