Red Sox 6, Cardinals 2

The limp showed up in the early innings, growing more profound as Game 2 of the World Series wore on. The blood showed up a few innings later, drawing television cameras to Curt Schilling's right ankle like flies. Had Schilling, the Boston Red Sox' sturdy right-hander, stayed in the game any longer, one got the feeling the late innings might have witnessed the dramatic appearance of an ambulance and a priest.

But with six more gutsy innings on an ankle sewn up with sutures and shot up with a painkiller, Schilling added to his postseason legend and helped draw the Red Sox to within two wins of their first World Series title in 86 years, pinning a gruesome 6-2 loss on the St. Louis Cardinals in front of 35,001 fans on a cool, misty night at Fenway Park.

The Red Sox now lead the best-of-seven series 2-0 and have won six straight games dating from Games 4-7 of the American League Championship Series against the New York Yankees. Following an off day Monday (the 18th anniversary of Bill Buckner's infamous error), the World Series will resume Tuesday night at St. Louis's Busch Stadium, where the Cardinals are unbeaten in six games this postseason. By the time the Red Sox return to Fenway Park, they could already have wrapped up the franchise's first title since 1918.

"We are not going to fall into the trap [of celebrating prematurely] after winning the first two games," said Red Sox lefty Alan Embree, sounding the universal theme among his teammates. "You saw what happened to the Yankees."

While speculation swirled that Schilling would be scratched from his start, or perhaps sidelined for the rest of the World Series, Schilling himself admitted later that as of early Sunday afternoon, he thought he would be unable to pitch. Only when a team doctor made a quick fix -- removing one of the sutures holding his tendon in place -- did he begin to feel well enough to pitch.

"Regardless of what happens in my career," Schilling said, "I'll never get a feeling like I had tonight. I wanted [the win] for my teammates."

Two games here have done little to validate these teams' standings as the best their respective leagues could produce.

The Cardinals have yet to locate a pitcher who can navigate the Red Sox' treacherous lineup for more than an inning or two -- Sunday night's unsuccessful contestants included starter Matt Morris and reliever Cal Eldred -- while the trio of most valuable player hopefuls who make up the heart of their batting order (Albert Pujols, Scott Rolen and Jim Edmonds) had combined for zero RBI until Rolen's sacrifice fly in the eighth.

"We put ourselves in a tough situation," Eldred said, "but hanging our heads is not what this team is about."

The Red Sox, meantime, have had an extraordinarily difficult time catching and throwing the ball; they committed four more errors Sunday night -- three of them charged to third baseman Bill Mueller -- to run their total to eight in two games. Somehow, they have won both games. Were it not for their clutch hitting -- all six of their runs came with two outs -- the Red Sox might be haunted by their awful defense.

"We're not going to remember the errors," center fielder Johnny Damon said. "We don't care. The game's over. We won."

The third and fourth of Boston's errors -- one on Mueller, one on second baseman Mark Bellhorn -- came with two outs in the sixth, as Schilling's pitch count was climbing into the nineties. But Schilling assured his teammates he would get them out of the jam, and he did, inducing a sharp grounder to third off the bat of Reggie Sanders, which Mueller this time guided into his glove, stepping on third for the force-out to end the inning and end Schilling's night, his ledger marred only by four hits and a single unearned run.

"I wanted [to take Mueller and Bellhorn off the hook] so bad," Schilling said. "I wanted to get out of the inning and make it all right for them."

As was done the day before his pivotal Game 6 start in the ALCS against the New York Yankees, Schilling underwent a surgical procedure Saturday in which his injured tendon was sutured in place to prevent it from slipping and popping out of place.

Schilling had his big Willis Reed moment before the game, when he limped in from the bullpen to the Red Sox' dugout, passing in front of the adoring throngs in the stands, who rose to their feet as one and heaped applause upon their warrior. Schilling, staring straight ahead, game face on, never looked up.

Schilling's fastball was topping out around 92 mph, slightly off his normal heat, but not cause for major concern. And he complemented it with a nasty splitter that dove out of the way of the Cardinals' bats. Strangely, the Cardinals (like the Yankees five nights earlier) never tried bunting on Schilling.

Schilling has more reason than any of his teammates -- make that 15,000,000 more reasons -- to bring a World Series title to Boston. His contract stipulates he gets a $2 million bump in salary in 2005, plus a $13 million guaranteed option year in 2007, if the Red Sox win.

And by the end of the night, while Schilling was recuperating in the comfort of his clubhouse, if there was indeed an ambulance and a priest headed to Fenway Park, they surely would have been directed toward the Cardinals.

Curt Schilling, who became the first starting pitcher to win a World Series game with three teams, punctuates his six-inning, four-hit effort. The major focus for many Boston Red Sox -- and St. Louis Cardinals -- fans has been Schilling's temporarily repaired right ankle.First base coach Lynn Jones counsels Orlando Cabrera, whose two-out single scored Johnny Damon, second from left, and Trot Nixon, far right.Manager Tony La Russa, second from right, catcher Mike Matheny, right, and other Cardinals watch disconsolately as they prepare to head home to St. Louis trailing two games to none.