OAKLAND, Calif. - 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 career 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 get 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 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 the 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,” Stewart 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.
He also accomplished the feat in 1992 against the New York Mets and 10 years later against Milwaukee. He lost those bids early — in the third inning against the Brewers, the fifth against the Mets.
The 40-year-old would have been the third-oldest pitcher 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.
Schilling had twice before taken no-hit bids into the eighth inning, losing one famously when San Diego’s Ben Davis bunted for a hit with one out in the eighth inning to break up a perfect game in 2001. Schilling warned his teammates to look out for a bunt in the late innings of this game.
The nation grieved for those hurt, killed and affected by the Boston Marathon bombings. After one of the suspects was caught on Friday — following a day-long lockdown and manhunt — sports returned to Boston over the weekend.
Taking a look at some of the greatest catchers off all time.