|That playoff intensity was there for Curt Schilling in Game 2 against the Indians, but the results weren't to his liking. (JIM DAVIS/GLOBE STAFF)|
Schilling no doubt will be loaded for bear
There are times when it's good to have a blowhard/glory hog on your roster. This is one of those times.
Game 6, backs to the wall . . . it's Curt Schilling time.
Big Schill gets the ball against the Indians tonight at Fenway in the sixth game of the American League Championship Series. Like Joe Hardy in "Damn Yankees," Schilling is old, diminished, and on the brink of fading from view entirely, but there's confidence throughout the Nation that he's got enough left to get the job done one more time.
Here's a nugget from Schilling's speakerphone session with the media yesterday:
"In my mind, in October if you're going to have to win a game and your life depends on it, I want to be the guy that you would say, 'Absolutely. We want this guy on the mound. We believe that we have the best chance to win no matter who's pitching against him' "
Oversized ego? You bet. And it's a good thing. This is what you want from the lawyer who is defending your freedom. This is what you want from the doctor who's performing your brain surgery. And it's what you want when you send a man out to pitch a game that could be the final game of your season.
Schilling's postseason résumé is sensational. He is the Mr. October of Moundsmen, owning a 9-2 record with a 2.23 ERA in 17 postseason starts. He pitched a World Series shutout 14 years ago with the Phillies and was co-MVP of the Fall Classic with the Diamondbacks in 2001. Some of you might remember that he also did OK in 2004 - winning Game 6 of the ALCS in Yankee Stadium with blood oozing from fresh sutures in his junky right ankle.
He's even better when his team is on the eve of destruction. In four elimination game starts, Schilling is 3-0 with a 1.11 ERA. Like Bill Russell, Larry Bird, and Tom Brady, Schilling is a guy who wants the ball in his hands when everything is on the line. He is John Wayne. True grit. His mere presence makes most Red Sox fans feel like they've already won tonight's game.
"It's probably unfair," Sox manager Terry Francona admitted yesterday. "I mean, even dating back to the sock, and remember the soap opera watching him throw in the bullpen and having doctors and trainers out there, and he really shouldn't have pitched. And I can't remember one moment ever thinking he wouldn't pitch, and not only that, but that he wouldn't win. And it probably wasn't fair."
A lot of good pitchers can't get it done this time of year (Roger Clemens won only one of nine postseason starts for the Sox). It can be nerves or inexperience. The Indians this year have endured three stinkers from C.C. Sabathia and one from tonight's starter, Fausto Carmona. The Sox have seen Daisuke Matsuzaka spit the bit a couple of times.
Schilling was hit hard in Game 2 against the Indians, but no one's ever going to believe the pressure gets to him.
"He won't panic," said captain Jason Varitek. "He wanted the ball three days ago. That's good for us."
Francona added, "Knowing your guy is not going to walk people, he's not going to balk, he'll field his position, that is comforting . . . That part is terrific. I think we all know that and have come to respect that."
The tricky part of all this is the reality that Schilling today throws more like Al Nipper than like Roger Clemens. He's going to be 41 in November, he never fully came back from the ankle injury of 2004, and shoulder problems put him on the shelf for part of this season. He's failed to win 10 games in two of the last three seasons, and since he returned from the disabled list Aug. 6, he's been forced to abandon his power game.
It's been a rapid reinvention, and Schilling has pulled it off nicely. Exploiting his historic control, and maniacal preparation, he's been able to get hitters out with offspeed pitches and an 89-mile-per-hour fastball that doesn't move very much. He's been outsmarting hitters where he used to overpower them. He held up against the Yankee lineup a couple of times (except for a couple of home run hiccups) and beat the Angels twice, including seven innings of shutout ball in the Division Series clincher.
But it's fragile. Schilling's margin of error is microscopic. He has to hit spots in order to succeed. The Tribe slapped him around for five runs on nine hits (two homers) in 4 2/3 innings of Game 2. Ever a stand-up guy, Schilling took full blame for the loss.
On paper, Cleveland has the advantage tonight because Carmona is a 23-year-old 19-game winner at the height of his powers, while Schilling is a nine-game winner coming off a royal beating, perhaps making his final appearance with the Red Sox.
But we cannot measure this matchup with comparisons of age, 2007 victories, or radar gun readings. Bill James and the minions have no stat with which they can measure heart.
It's Game 6. It's all on the line. And Curt Schilling, the Lion in Winter, is the man you want to see on the mound.
Dan Shaughnessy is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.