Schilling improves to 4-0 as Red Sox dump Devil Rays

BOSTON (AP) -- Curt Schilling heard the talk that the end of his career might be near. Now he's off to his best start ever.

Schilling opened a season with four straight winning starts for the first time, breezing through six innings and striking out seven to lead the Boston Red Sox over the Tampa Bay Devil Rays 9-1 on Wednesday night.

"That's part of the rush of being in the big leagues, people write you off," he said.

Backed by Boston's season-high seven-run third inning, Schilling (4-0) allowed one run and six hits in lowering his ERA from 1.64 to 1.61. He tied Jim Bunning for 15th on the strikeouts list at 2,855 when he fanned Jonny Gomes in the sixth but didn't feel like it was one of his better outings.

"I feel good. I feel like I'm past all the tough times," he said. "I don't feel like I've gone out there with everything working. It's all about consistency."

Schilling started with four wins twice before in his career but with no-decisions mixed in each time. He was 4-0 with Philadelphia in 1995 and 5-0 with Arizona in 2001.

Manager Terry Francona thinks Schilling's surgically repaired right ankle, operated on after he helped the Red Sox win the 2004 World Series, is fine and Schilling is back to his prior form.

"He's always been consistent," Francona said. "You don't last this long and be as good as he has without being consistent."

Kevin Youkilis had a solo homer and two singles and Mark Loretta, Trot Nixon and Mike Lowell each had two hits for the Red Sox, who won for the 10th time in 13 games.

Doug Waechter (0-1) gave up seven runs -- six earned -- five hits and three walks in 2 2/3 innings. Tampa Bay, which has lost eight straight at Fenway Park, made a season-high four errors.

Youkilis homered on Waechter's fourth pitch, and Boston blew open the game in the third.

Center fielder Joey Gathright made a run-scoring throwing error, Nixon hit an RBI single, Jason Varitek had a sacrifice fly and Lowell hit a two-run double. Another run scored when reliever Jason Childers dropped first baseman Travis Lee's throw while covering the base on Adam Stern's grounder.

"In the third inning it kind of snowballed on me," Waechter said.

That was certainly more than enough offense for Schilling.

"He has probably been a little bit sharper this year," Devil Rays manager Joe Maddon said. "But his velocity was there when he needed it, his breaking pitches were there when he needed them."

Schilling, 8-8 in 11 starts last season, knew some thought the 39-year-old was getting too old to dominate.

"I love stuff like that," he said. "Unfortunately, that's how people go through other people's lives. Before the season, I read what was written."

Devil Rays left fielder Ty Wigginton made errors on consecutive plays in the fifth; the second came when he dropped Alex Gonzalez's
sacrifice fly that made it 9-1. The other was when he bobbled Lowell's single.

Gathright had an RBI single for the Devil Rays in the fifth.

Game notes
Manny Ramirez is in the midst of his longest homerless drought to open a season, currently 51 at-bats. Last year, was his previous longest, with Ramirez connecting in his 39th. ... Tampa Bay left fielder Carl Crawford was scratched from the starting lineup about 2½ hours before the game. He injured his right shoulder diving for a ball in Tuesday's loss. ... Youkilis had the first leadoff homer for Boston since Johnny Damon last Aug. 25. ... The Devil Rays had just six errors on the season coming in. ... Stern, selected by the Red Sox in the 2004 winter meeting draft, talked after the game like a person who knew he'd be going to Triple-A Pawtucket soon. "It's cool," he said. "You want to play every day." He's eligible to go to the minors Thursday, but Francona wouldn't confirm any decision when asked after the game.