Red Sox 9, Yankees 2

He slept like a bear in hibernation -- one arm covering his face, the other draped over his stomach -- on a locker-room sofa in the stadium where he became a postseason legend by pitching with a bloody sock, a stitched ankle and the hopes of a desperate fan base.

The sounds of a bustling clubhouse did not wake him. Nor did the television. Boston Red Sox pitcher Curt Schilling did not stir from his nap, and the New York Yankees hoped he wouldn't.

But on a sunny Saturday afternoon, Schilling returned to Yankee Stadium for the first time since Game 6 of the last October's American League Championship Series and looked like the dominant pitcher who a year ago helped the Red Sox quell 86 years of curses and demons.

"Schilling," Yankees catcher John Flaherty said, "looked like the old Schilling."

In a 9-2 victory that helped Boston regain a four-game lead in the AL East, Schilling (6-7) pitched eight innings, allowing two runs and five hits.

"The only thing better than being cheered in Fenway [Park] is being booed at Yankee Stadium," Schilling said. "This is an incredible environment to pitch in. I've always enjoyed it. I've never felt they booed players who [stunk]. When you come in here there is a different kind of adrenaline. It's always helped me focus."

Schilling had returned to the lineup earlier this season after more than two months on the disabled list, but it was obvious he was not at full strength. The Red Sox worried that Schilling was not the same pitcher they had admired and depended on. It did not stop the Yankees from fearing him.

"Schilling at 80 percent is a lot better than a lot of pitchers because of his know-how and courage," Yankees Manager Joe Torre said.

Last fall, in trying to help Boston win its first World Series title since 1918, Schilling sacrificed his health and risked his career. When Schilling decided to pitch in Game 6 of the ALCS with stitches in his right ankle to stabilize a detached tendon, he did so with the knowledge that his 2005 season would be threatened. Because Schilling pitched in Game 2 of the World Series, he had to delay surgery on his ankle, meaning he would likely miss the start of the 2005 season. Schilling began the season on the disabled list and was sent back in late April when his ankle did not prove strong enough.

Saturday's outing was easily his most impressive of the season. New York's first hit did not come until the fourth inning. Schilling's split-finger fastball was his most potent pitch.

"I didn't feel any different physically than I have felt in the past," Schilling said. "We used all my pitches. I got outs with all of them. We located better today. I think that's obvious."

With Schilling, the Red Sox are perhaps the best team in the American League and the favorite to win the World Series. Without Schilling, the Red Sox are vulnerable.

"Schilling is one game," argued Red Sox center fielder Johnny Damon, who missed Saturday's game. "It will be nice to get him back. But I also think we have some pretty good guys. That's a formidable rotation. But if we want our ace back, he's going to be it."

Schilling has struggled since rejoining the rotation, and his 6.83 ERA prior to Saturday's game had worried some. But not Boston Manager Terry Francona, who knew the old Schilling would come back.

"I never believed he wouldn't have it in him," Francona said. "Schill pitches off adrenaline so much. Things are starting to come together."

After a failed turn in the bullpen, Schilling got his first start on Aug. 25. He was winless in his three starts, but Boston catcher Jason Varitek saw reason for optimism.

"I think he's been working his way to health and strength and being a pitcher again," Varitek said. "He had a major injury he had repaired this offseason. He's real close. If he throws the ball like he did today, it gives us an opportunity to win a lot of games."

On a sleepy Saturday afternoon, Schilling awakened.

Bill Mueller, left, and Trot Nixon celebrate the Red Sox' win over the host Yankees. Curt Schilling allowed five hits and struck out six in eight innings.