Proper grip eludes pitcher
Curt Schilling won last night but lasted just 5 1/3 innings and gave up three homers. (AP Photo)
BALTIMORE -- Because the Red Sox won, Curt Schilling said, he was assured of getting some sleep last night. ''An hour or two, anyway," he said.
But the stuff that keeps Schilling up at night -- and Sox fans wondering what happened to the guy who was so dominant in his first four starts this season -- was already gnawing at him, long before Jonathan Papelbon got the final out in 3 1/3 innings of scoreless relief by the bullpen to save Schilling's sixth win, a narrow 6-5 decision over the Baltimore Orioles in Camden Yards.
No one does self-analysis better than Schilling, who was unsparing in deconstructing his performance, one in which he frittered away a 4-0 lead by giving up five runs on nine hits, including three home runs, before the Sox rallied to regain the lead on two-out RBI singles by Mark Loretta and David Ortiz in the sixth.
''Seven two-strike hits," he said. ''Four 0-and-2 hits. I'm still overthrowing the ball in situations I can't. Thirty-six pitches with two strikes, and I got two swings and misses. I don't have that 96, 97 [m.p.h. fastball] anymore when I need it with two strikes. But I'm not translating it on the field."
It sure seemed as if he had it when he ran off four wins to start the season, allowing just five earned runs on 17 hits (2 home runs) in 28 innings. That translates to a 1.61 ERA, and he held opposing hitters to a .172 batting average,
In his last five starts, Schilling is 2-2 with a 6.53 ERA. In 30 1/3 innings, he has allowed 22 earned runs on 40 hits. Opponents are batting .315 against him. They've also hit eight home runs, three apiece in the last two games. Ramon Hernandez, Jay Gibbons, and Brandon Fahey took him deep last night, Fahey for his first big-league home run.
The drop in effectiveness follows a 133-pitch outing in Jacobs Field on a cold night in Cleveland, which raised all kinds of alarms at the time and continues to do so. Just as they did then, both Schilling and manager Terry Francona dispute that it has had any deleterious effects on the 39-year-old righthander.
''To me, that's a long time ago," Francona said. ''People look at everything. I try to, too. That's my job. I don't think that's why he's giving up home runs.
''Physically, I think he looks tremendous. I think the velocity is the same. I think he's running through a period where he's made some mistakes. They haven't been fouled back, they've left the ballpark."
Schilling was even more adamant in asserting that connecting the dots to Cleveland was for amateurs.
''I can talk until I'm blue in the face, until everybody's blue in face, when I tell you guys that's not it," Schilling said. ''It makes good copy. That's really putting the blame and making excuses where they don't belong.
''I'm not executing. I've given up six home runs in my last two starts. I'm making mistakes.
''The homers are horrible pitches. It doesn't matter if I threw 33 or 133, I just haven't pitched well. Unfortunately, it coincides with that start."
Last night, Schilling not only was unable to put away hitters with his fastball, he also did not have a good feel for his splitter, though that was the pitch on which he got his only swings and misses. After Corey Patterson hit a hanging splitter for a double in the second, Schilling rarely turned to the splitter on two-strike counts.
''That's part of it," Schilling said. ''The split's not as sharp. The fastball doesn't have the extra oomph I used to have. I've got to adjust and make better pitches. I will."
Where that oomph went, of course, is subject to conjecture, as in, did it check out in Cleveland? What happened last night, Schilling said, was that in trying to reach back for something extra, he gave up command of his fastball, and that cost him, big-time.
''Any time you try to put extra velocity on the ball, chances are real high you're going to give away location," he said. ''When you throw the ball like Josh [Beckett] does, you can get away with that. But right now I cannot. I knew it -- I've known it -- but I'm not taking it out to the mound on a consistent basis."
That reach-back fastball ultimately will return, he insists. What to do in the interim?
''It's mental, it's all mental," he said. ''The mind-set, the philosophy, is not foreign to me. I get ahead throwing 91, 92, getting a guy to two strikes. It's almost like with two strikes I get to be a bull in a china shop instead of staying with my strength, which is command, moving a guy back and forth across the plate, getting him out in front. I'm not doing that, and that's frustrating."
It's why he expected the shut-eye to last just an hour or two.
''I've got to pitch again on Monday," he said. ''I will get better."