PHOENIX -- Not that he needed to do it to convince you, me, the Red Sox, or baseball in general, but his one-hitter Thursday afternoon in Oakland had to be the final evidence that Curt Schilling should be signed to a contract for next season.
If Sox management wanted to witness a 40-year-old Schilling over time to project him as a top-of-the-rotation starter for another season at least, what better evidence can there be than that performance? He proved he could still dominate, showed that he could rev up his fastball when needed, and that he can get by on guile as well as extraordinary pitch selection.
If they needed a sample size of 2007 to determine whether Schilling still has "it," well, I think the verdict is in, don't you?
The Red Sox will not change their stance after one terrific start and 13 overall pretty good ones ( 6-2, 3.49 ERA, and eight quality starts). Their philosophy is to go year to year with older players, which means they will risk paying more later. They have to be convinced that Schilling can remain healthy over a full season. After all, as courageous as his bloody sock performance was, he hasn't been consistently healthy since 2004. He has a chance to reestablish that.
Schilling said yesterday that he hasn't thought about his contract status for a while, but that he would be surprised if general manager Theo Epstein changed his mind about waiting, though Schilling reiterated his desire to stay in Boston. There's always the possibility owner John W. Henry could step in and have Epstein reconsider, but that would be the only scenario in which an extension gets done prior to the end of the season.
"I think things will work out the way they're supposed to work out," Schilling said. "It's a business. I understand that."
He also understands Epstein is not about to make a decision based on emotions, or get caught up in the fact that Schilling came within one out of pitching a no-hitter.
When Schilling said before spring training that he wanted a $13 million deal for next year, I would have waited for a sample of his work. Right now, I couldn't get a contract under his pen fast enough before the price goes up, if it hasn't already.
I know, the money is outrageous. Imagine making that much to throw a baseball. Or to play any game for a living. That's the business, however.
There is a dearth of top-shelf pitching in baseball -- how long have we been saying that? Which is why when Roger Clemens won yesterday in his first start this season for the Yankees, you start to believe he may be worth the prorated $28 million he's making.
If you're Schilling, you're sitting pretty, but you'd rather see it resolved. He knows the Sox won't negotiate during the season and that free agency could be very lucrative if he continues to pitch at this level. The Sox are banking on Schilling wanting to stay here and that even if free agency creates competition for his services, the Sox can outbid everyone or tug at Schilling's new roots in Boston.
Schilling said without elaborating that it's not as much about money as people might think. Many factors are involved in him wanting to remain in Boston. But there are many teams who need a veteran presence and a guy who could still win 20. He knows it. Everyone knows it.
The Red Sox certainly want to get younger, and have accomplished that with Dustin Pedroia at second base, starting pitchers Daisuke Matsuzaka and Josh Beckett, and closer Jonathan Papelbon. Like all teams, they like young, proven starting pitchers, and perhaps they're gearing for a run at free agents such as White Sox lefthander Mark Buehrle, Cubs righthander Carlos Zambrano, Marlins lefty Dontrelle Willis, or A's righty Rich Harden (via trade).
Proceeding with caution on Schilling may be due in part to the commitment they need to make soon to at least two promising starters in Jon Lester and Clay Buchholz. Whether that's the case, the bottom line is Schilling can still pitch at a high level. He has done so after not being in great shape at the start of the season.
There are certainly those who don't care for Schilling's constant need to be in the limelight. That's just his personality, and if we haven't gotten used to it by now, we never will. But the real story is his ability and you don't discard a guy who knows his way around the American League, and the East Division in particular. If Randy Johnson is still pitching for the Diamondbacks at $16 million per year (some being paid by the Yankees) , then what is Schilling worth to the Red Sox? If anything, Schilling might be shortchanging himself with his $13 million demand. If he wins 15 games, that number will go up.
The Sox are comfortable with that risk, feeling a full season is a better sample of his work. But if it were me, knowing how important he is, I'd make sure Schilling was signed, sealed, and delivered for at least one more year.
Nick Cafardo can be reached at email@example.com.