Schilling's hand holds key to East

AL notebook

Baseball Week

August 28, 2005

He is the key to the American League East crown.

He may be the most important player in the pennant race.

But right now Curt Schilling is not Curt Schilling -- not consistently, anyway. If that doesn't change, the Boston Red Sox will be hard-pressed to repeat as World Series champions.

On Thursday, Schilling made his first start since April 23 and was carved up by the usually anemic Kansas City Royals. He allowed nine hits, one walk and six runs in five innings pitched.

"The ball came out of his hand very well. I don't think he executed all of his pitches," manager Terry Francona said. "He didn't look like he got tired. There are good days ahead."

Schilling, attempting to come back from an injured right ankle, hit 95 mph on the radar gun Thursday and consistently threw his fastball between 90 and 91 mph, just shy of his normal readings.

But his command was spotty, he had trouble locating his split-fingered fastball and he left way too many of his 82 pitches over the middle of the plate.

It frustrated Schilling, whose past 21 appearances were out of the bullpen. He converted nine of 11 save chances, but posted a 4-3 record and 5.18 ERA as a reliever.

The Red Sox have some options if they must tinker with their staff. Rookie Jon Papelbon has impressed in his brief big league stint. Bronson Arroyo can start or bail out Schilling or David Wells in middle relief.

Closer Keith Foulke will be back from injury soon, Closer-in-waiting Craig Hansen, the team's first-round pick in the 2005 amateur draft, is expected to be among the Sept. 1 call-ups.

And the offense is always imposing.

But Schilling needs to be Schilling for the Red Sox to be World Series-bound again.

Troubled uncle

When news broke about former pitching great Dwight Gooden's decision to flee from police after he was stopped for suspicion of drunken driving last week in Tampa, Fla., his nephew wasn't surprised.

"I've tried [to help]," said New York Yankees outfielder Gary Sheffield, Gooden's nephew. "I've put him in rehab. I've spent a lot of money to do that. I've been there for him. But it comes to a point where you've just got to let him go through what he's got to go through. The family has tried everything."

Missing for three days, Gooden turned himself in to authorities Thursday.

Markakis praise

One scout who recently saw Bowie Baysox outfielder Nick Markakis, the Orioles' top position prospect, compared him favorably to former Pittsburgh Pirates All-Star Andy Van Slyke.

The scout said Markakis, 21, has the speed and instincts to be an All-Star center fielder. He also has the bat -- hitting .300 at Single-A Frederick before hitting nearly .350 in his month at Double-A.

Quick hits

Jason Kendall is on a pace to catch 142 games this season. It would be the most in Oakland Athletics history ... A hot second half has all but assured that the Tampa Bay Devil Rays won't hit the 100-loss mark. ... Mark Teixeira's in elite company in Texas. Only four other Rangers have had consecutive 100-RBI seasons.

League notebooks are compiled from interviews, wire services and reports from other newspapers.

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