Red Sox starter Curt Schilling came within an out of his first career no-hitter and most of the 31,211 fans at McAfee Coliseum were rooting for him to finish it off. In the end, Schilling tossed his third career one-hitter and topped the A's, 1-0, on Thursday afternoon.
With two outs in the ninth, Shannon Stewart was the last obstacle between Schilling putting a feather in the cap of a career that might end up being Hall of Fame worthy.
Stewart took the first pitch he saw, a Schilling fastball on the outside part of the plate, and lined it just past the dive of second baseman Alex Cora and it went into right field for a base hit.
"I was looking away and shot it out there," Stewart said. "I looked down at the third-base coach and didn't get a take sign. I told myself I'd be swinging if the pitch was there."
"With two outs I was sure I had it," the 40-year-old Schilling said. "I shook off [Red Sox catcher Jason Varitek] and now I'll have to deal with a 'what-if' the rest of my life."
"Nobody wants to get no-hit" Nick Swisher said. "[Schilling] was just changing speeds today and mixing in all his pitches. You just have to put it your memory bank for next time."
As soon as Stewart's ball rolled toward J.D. Drew in right, the fans that had been rooting for the common goal in the ninth went back to rooting for their team as if their allegiance had never wavered.
The A's had not just broken up the no-hitter, but had the tying run on base and a hot hitter in the form of Mark Ellis at the plate who could win the game with one swing.
"It went from getting no-hit to being one swing away from winning the game," A's manager Bob Geren said. "Ellis has been swinging well and I thought we had a chance for a walk-off. I was hoping [Schilling] would make one mistake."
Schilling was able to get Ellis to pop the ball up to Cora, who gloved the ball as he was crossing over into foul territory.
"He used four pitches and a variation of his fastball," Geren said. "He was outstanding today."
Dan Johnson was the only other A's player to reach base, reaching on a Julio Lugo error in the fifth.
"It came down to the last out, but we got it," Johnson said. "[Schilling] had it going for him today, and you just have to tip your cap to him."
Mark Kotsay came close to ending the no-hitter in the sixth inning, sending Red Sox center fielder Coco Crisp into the wall to catch a long drive. Crisp made nearly the same exact catch on a ball that Stewart hit on Wednesday night.
"When Kotsay hit that ball, I had a flashback of the other night," Geren said. "The ball travels better in the day, so I thought it had a chance to get over his head."
"I drove the ball to center field and the guy made a great play," Kotsay said.
Lost in all this is the fact that Joe Blanton tossed another great game on the heels of his last start.
Blanton threw a complete-game three-hit shutout against the Twins in just an hour and 49 minutes on Saturday, topping Carlos Silva 1-0. Blanton followed that up with another gem on Thursday.
"It happens," Blanton said of losing a 1-0 game. "The last game I threw, it happened to the other pitcher."
Blanton pitched 7 1/3 innings, allowed one run on only four hits and left the game to a standing ovation from most of the fans in attendance.
"I thought Joe pitched great," Geren said. "He gave us a chance to win the game. He's having a great season and our fans appreciate what our pitchers are doing."
Blanton fell to 5-4 on the year and his ERA dropped to 3.60.
The only run he allowed was a first-inning home run to David Ortiz, who took a 3-2 changeup and hit it to the bleachers in left.
"I didn't think he hit it that well," Blanton said. "But he got enough to send it out. He's a big, strong guy."
Despite the loss, the A's were able to take three of four games from the team with the best record in baseball.
"We won three of four against a good team," Geren said. "So we're feeling good about the series overall."
"We won three out of four against the best team in baseball," Swisher added. "We can't be worried with all that other stuff."
Matt Smith is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.Less