A's get to Schilling early; BoSox lead shrinks

BOSTON (AP) -- Curt Schilling had a setback as the pennant race is heating up. Joe Blanton is hitting his stride.

Both of them have some work to do to get there.

Blanton gave Oakland another strong outing, holding Boston to two runs over 6 1/3 innings Thursday night and the Athletics took advantage of Schilling's early troubles to beat the Red Sox 6-2 and tighten two pennant races at one time.

"If we don't play well, we're not going to get to the playoffs and we won't play deep into October," Red Sox center fielder Johnny Damon said. "It's ours to lose. There's a lot of teams fighting for spots."

One of them is Oakland, which pulled into a tie for first in the AL West with Los Angeles -- an 8-6 loser to Detroit. East-leading Boston fell 1½ games in front of the Yankees, who beat the Devil Rays 9-5; New York had not been that close since Aug. 29.

"We're still on top," said Red Sox designated hitter David Ortiz, who had his major league-leading 131st RBI with a sacrifice fly in the sixth. "The problem is when you go under."

Mark Kotsay singled in two runs before Schilling (6-8) recorded his first out, and Mark Ellis had three hits and drove in a pair of runs for Oakland. Blanton (10-11) returned to his stingy ways, allowing just two runs on six hits and two walks while striking out three in 6 1/3 innings.

Before giving up four runs in his last outing, Blanton had allowed two or fewer in nine consecutive starts.

"He [Schilling] threw the ball very well for a span of four innings and kept them in the game," A's manager Ken Macha said. "But our guy was pretty good."

Schilling gave up a double and two singles on his first five pitches and then gave up another run on three straight singles in the second inning before settling down. In all, he allowed four runs on 11 hits and three walks in 6 2/3 innings.

It was the fewest strikeouts Schilling had in a start this year and a step back from what the Red Sox hoped was a breakout outing on Saturday, when he went a season-high eight innings to beat the Yankees. He flailed his arms in anger when manager Terry Francona came out of the dugout, though the pitcher said he was mad at himself.

"I was just frustrated with the whole situation," Schilling said. "I was more frustrated with the fact that that was a winnable game going into the seventh, and I let it get away."

Ellis slapped Schilling's first pitch of the game to center field. Jason Kendall doubled into the left field corner on an 0-1 pitch and then Kotsay drove them in on an 0-1 single to center. Ellis drove in Nick Swisher in the second to make it 3-0.

"They were aggressive on the first pitch fastball and I know Schill is just trying to get ahead of them because they don't do that very often," Francona said. "And before you can even get your feet on the ground you are pitching out of the stretch and you've
got your hands full."

Damon, who had been out three games with a sore shoulder, doubled and scored on Ortiz's sacrifice fly in the sixth. Manny Ramirez hit a hard liner that was kept in play by the Green Monster and resulted in just a single.

After a wild pitch, Blanton walked Trot Nixon but then struck out Jason Varitek to end the inning. Boston put runners on second and third with one out in the seventh before Ricardo Rincon came in to give up Damon's RBI groundout.

Justin Duchscherer got Edgar Renteria on a grounder to first to end the inning.

Oakland had lost three of four and nine of 14. But on the road the A's are 32-12 since June 10.

Game notes
The start of the game was delayed 43 minutes. ... The Red Sox added a Hurricane Katrina relief message to the Green Monster, giving the number for the Red Cross (1-800-HELP-NOW). ... Former Red Sox outfielder Jay Payton was booed by the fans at each at-bat. Little-used in Boston, Payton argued with Francona to speed his way out of town. ... The Red Sox purchased the contract of outfielder Adam Hyzdu from Triple-A Pawtucket and unconditionally released left-hander Matt Perisho. ... Renteria returned to the lineup after getting a day off. He has one hit in his last 18 at-bats.