Curt Schilling was signed to do one thing: bring the World Series to Boston. Mission accomplished.
He was the one who tipped the scales, whose presence accounted for the difference between the Boston Red Sox enduring another off-season of despair and celebrating a winter of jubilation. He signified Boston's most critical baseball acquisition for two reasons: one, because he would combine with Pedro Martinez to form baseball's most lethal pitching duo, and two, because it kept him out of the clutches of the Evil Empire.
"If I hadn't signed with the Red Sox by that November 30 deadline," Curt Schilling said recently, "I would have been pitching for the New York Yankees."
But that 2003 deadline was met by Boston general manager Theo Epstein, who forwent his traditional Brookline turkey feast to sit with the Schillings in Phoenix last Thanksgiving. It was during their holiday meal that Epstein explained to Schilling that if he helped the Red Sox win a World Series, he would be deified throughout New England. Schilling knew this (he'd spent nights on the Internet gabbing with rabid Sox fans), and in negotiating his own contract, he sneaked a fast one past Major League Baseball by getting a $2 million bonus provision that would kick in only if he helped win that elusive championship.
Talk about money in the bank. From the moment Schilling arrived, he was compelling, forthright, and controversial. He opined on everything from steroids and long hair to Alex Rodriguez and George Bush. He tutored young pitchers like Bronson Arroyo and tried to placate frustrated veterans like Derek Lowe. He was the most prepared starter in the clubhouse, poring over homemade binders of information on every hitter in baseball. He won 21 games, lost just six, and he emerged as the undisputed leader of the pitching staff.
Then came the playoffs, the reason he was brought to Boston. In Game 1 of the division series against Anaheim, the most feared hitter in the Angels lineup was Vladimir Guerrero. Schilling flummoxed the slugger into two harmless fly balls and a strikeout, and as Schilling gave way to the bullpen, he whispered advice about Guerrero into their caps. Anaheim's best hitter went hitless the rest of the game.
"Schill set the table for that," reliever Mike Timlin would explain later.
By the time it was revealed that Schilling had dislocated a tendon in his ankle and the rest of his post-season status was in doubt, the thought of beating anyone - let alone the Yankees - without him was unfathomable. With blood oozing through his sock, Schilling gimped to the hill and somehow outfoxed New York, 42, in Game 6 of the American League Championship Series, to pull the Sox even at 3-3 and set the stage for the finale to a comeback the likes of which had never been seen. His performance was made possible by having the team doctor, Bill Morgan, immobilize the tendon in a procedure tested only on cadavers.
On the morning of Game 2 of the World Series against St. Louis, Schilling woke up unable to walk. The previous day, the medical staff had sutured his ankle again, but in adding an extra suture for stability, they had inadvertently hit a nerve. The pitcher told his wife that morning to take her time getting to the park, that there was no way he could see himself pitching with such discomfort. But driving to Fenway, he was buoyed by the signs along Route 109 in his adopted hometown of Medfield wishing him luck, and when he arrived at the park, the suture pressing on the nerve was removed, and suddenly Boston's ace was a go. The Red Sox banged out another victory, and Schilling got the win.
"I wish," Schilling said after his gritty outing, "that everybody on this planet could experience the day I just experienced."
His work complete, Schilling sat back and watched his teammates close out the series in a sweep. He hobbled through the celebratory parade on crutches, and had surgery to repair the tendon the next week. The Yankees, meanwhile, went in search of that veteran pitcher who could tip the scales back in their favor. Someone like Curt Schilling.
Jackie MacMullan is a member of the Globe staff.