Kevin Millar rounds the bases after drilling a two-run dinger in the fourth inning. (Stephen Dunn/Getty Images)
ANAHEIM -- It started back on April 6, when Curt Schilling made his first start in a Boston uniform, and hasn't stopped since. When the big right-hander takes the mound, the Red Sox have a swagger about them. They are relentless on offense, clutch on defense, and, of course, in complete control in the pitching category.
The latest Red Sox-Schilling clinic took place amid the highest stakes of the season to date. Tuesday afternoon marked the beginning of the postseason, but it looked like so many of the 32 starts Schilling made during the regular season.
He was stingy in the early innings, giving his offense time to break out. And once it did, the Sox and Schilling were able to cruise to a 9-3 victory in Game 1 of this best-of-five Division Series.
"The guy gives you the confidence," said Red Sox designated hitter David Ortiz. "He's out there inning by inning trying to hold the other team down. When you see a guy like that out there, you have to come with your best and produce for him."
Produce, they did. The difference was a seven-run fourth, when the Sox took the buzz out of the previously exuberant Angel Stadium crowd.
Though Schilling (6 2/3 innings, nine hits, two earned runs) was starting to lose a little bit of his edge by the time Sox manager Terry Francona removed him with two outs in the seventh, it was too late. The tone had been set. And now it's up to the Angels to salvage a split against three-time Cy Young Award winner Pedro Martinez on Wednesday night before the series shifts back to Boston.
Schilling wasn't in to dissecting every nuance of this outing. What pleased him most was the bottom line.
"This is a different time of year," said Schilling, "and assessing your performance takes on a different meaning. We won today."
It was a far less stressful opener to the playoffs than a year ago, when the Sox lost a heartbreaker to the A's in 13 innings and ultimately had to overturn a 2-0 series deficit to move on to the ALCS.
"It's just one game," said Red Sox center fielder Johnny Damon. "We're not going to be satisfied with just splitting. Now we need to try to go for the jugular."
Which is exactly what they always seem to do when Schilling is on the mound. The Sox averaged roughly a touchdown per Schilling start (6.9 runs) during the regular season, and stayed right around that pace again. Schilling improved to 6-1 in his 12 postseason starts. His ERA actually rose to 1.74.
"Obviously it starts with Schilling. He had a great performance," said Red Sox right fielder Gabe Kapler. "He establishes a really strong pace."
The offense made Angels ace Jarrod Washburn work for everything, as the left-hander left following 79 pitches over just 3 1/3 innings.
It looked like Washburn was going to cruise through the first, getting the first two batters, and then putting Manny Ramirez behind in the count, 1-2. But the star slugger kept working, pushing the count full and raking the eighth pitch of the at-bat off third baseman Chone Figgins' glove and into left for a double.
Ortiz stepped up next and jumped on the first pitch, lacing it off the glove of second baseman Alfredo Amezaga and into right. Ramirez came chugging around from second for the first run of the game.
"We got big hits by Manny and David," said Damon. "That's why they're perennial MVP candidates."
The Angels had a golden chance to make a dent in Schilling's armor in the third. Figgins led off with a single and stole second. Darin Erstad walked, setting up two on and one out for the devastating bat of Vladimir Guerrero. However, Schilling got the MVP candidate on the first pitch, a flyout that landed safely in the glove of right fielder. Figgins tagged and moved to third and nearly scored. But Sox shortstop Orlando Cabrera aggressively charged Garret Anderson's roller and made the do-or-die throw to first to end the inning.
Noted Kapler: "When we see him shut down opposing hitters, especially those that are dominant, it gives us a lot of confidence."
It wasn't a stretch to say the momentum carried right over to the top of the fourth, as the Sox turned a nail-biter into a comfortable lead. Ortiz got things started with a walk, and Kevin Millar jumped on an 0-1 pitch and smacked it over the wall in left for a two-run homer.
Curt Schilling / P
Weight: 235 lbs
Bats: R / Throws: R
Jason Varitek (single) and Cabrera (walk) kept the pressure on Washburn. With one out, Kapler lined a single to right to load the bases. Then came a play that was perhaps the turning point of the game. Damon hit a grounder to third, and Figgins rightly threw to the plate for the force. But his throw to the plate was wide to the left. The error allowed two runs to score, and set the stage for Ramirez's three-run homer to center that made it an 8-0 game by the time Schilling went back out for the bottom of the fourth.
"Everybody did a little bit. We have to keep it that way," Ortiz said.
Five of the runs in that inning were unearned, an impressive feat against an Anaheim club that led the Major Leagues by allowing just 36 unearned runs during the season.
The seven-run fourth was the largest in postseason history for the Sox, eclipsing the previous record of six tied by Boston postseason teams of 1903, '75 and '99.
The Angels got two back off Schilling in the seventh. One of them came via a loud home run by Erstad. The second was set up on when Schilling made a bad throw to first, allowing Garret Anderson to go all the way to third. Glaus ripped a double into the gap, slicing the lead to 8-3 and prompting Francona to remove Schilling in favor of Alan Embree, who retired the only batter he faced.
Schilling tweaked his right ankle covering the bag on a great defensive play by Millar in the sixth. The ankle has bothered Schilling most of the season, but he is confident it won't affect his next start.
"It's a little sore right now, but [the training staff] will take care of it," said Schilling.
Just like Schilling took care of the Angels, and the Sox, as a team, took care of business.
"He's an ace," said Millar. "This guy has a World Series ring. He's a horse. Any time we're able to throw two guys out there like Schilling and Martinez, that's what makes us so dangerous in these playoffs."
Ian Browne is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.