OAKLAND — Maybe the next time a Boston pitcher takes a no-hit bid into the ninth inning, he'll listen to catcher Jason Varitek.
Curt Schilling came within one out of his first no-hitter Thursday, losing his bid when Shannon Stewart lined a clean single to right field after Schilling shook off his catcher. Schilling finished with a one-hitter as the Red Sox beat the Oakland Athletics, 1-0.
"We get two outs, and I was sure, and I had a plan, and I shook Tek off," Schilling said. "And I get a big 'What if?' for the rest of my life."
It was not the first time a Boston pitcher shook off Varitek in the ninth inning only to see a no-hitter broken up. Pedro Martinez did it Aug. 29, 2000, against Tampa Bay, giving up a single to John Flaherty on a fastball instead of the curve that Varitek called for.
Schilling said he called off Varitek between five and 10 times, saying it "was one time too many."
"Hindsight is always 20/20," Varitek said. "It wasn't the first time he shook off all game. We had like a half-dozen. It doesn't really matter. He made a quality pitch. If he didn't make a quality pitch then you can second-guess."
Schilling (6-2) looked to be on his way to making history when he retired Mark Kotsay and Jason Kendall on grounders to shortstop for the first two outs of the ninth.
Having called fastballs to the first two batters, Varitek called for a first-pitch slider to Stewart. Schilling wanted to throw a fastball.
"I was sure he was taking, and Tek was sure he was swinging," Schilling said. "And I was wrong."
With a strong contingent of Red Sox fans cheering on at McAfee Coliseum, Stewart lined the first pitch through the hole between first and second for Oakland's only hit.
Stewart said he was expecting the take sign when he came up, but when he was given the go-ahead to swing away, he did just that.
"You never want to get no-hit," he said. "The bottom line is we lost the game. Nobody is happy about that."
Schilling's teammates in the dugout and many of the fans gave him a standing ovation after the hit, and he paced behind the mound for a short time, trying to gather his composure and not lose more than a no-hitter. Schilling retired Mark Ellis on a foul popout to end the third one-hitter of his career.
The 40-year-old would have been the third-oldest pitcher to pitch a no-hitter. Nolan Ryan did it as a 43- and 44-year-old, and Cy Young was 41 when he pitched a no-hitter for the Red Sox in 1908.
David Ortiz hit his 11th home run in the first inning against Joe Blanton (5-4) to give Schilling all the support he would need and help Boston stop a season-high four-game losing streak.
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There have been 55 no-hitters in major league history broken up with two out in the ninth. The 10 most recent:
*--* Pitcher, Team Date Opponent Batter Curt Schilling, Boston June 7, 2007 Oakland Shannon Stewart Roy Halladay, Toronto Sept. 27, 2001 Detroit Bobby Higginson Mike Mussina, New Sept. 2, 2001 Boston Carl Everett York (AL) Alan Benes, St. Louis May 16, 1997 Atlanta Michael Tucker Frank Castillo, Sept. 25, 1995 St. Louis Bernard Gilkey Chicago (NL) Paul Wagner, Aug. 29, 1995 Colorado Andres Galarraga Pittsburgh Jeff Fassero, Montreal June 13, 1994 Pittsburgh Carlos Garcia Jose Guzman, Chicago April 6, 1993 Atlanta Otis Nixon (NL) Doug Drabek, Aug. 3, 1990 Philadelphia Sil Campusano Pittsburgh Scott Garrelts, San July 29, 1990 Cincinnati Paul O'Neill Francisco
Source: "Lost in the Ninth" by Stew Thornley, milkeespress.com