He was the Mini-Me version of himself in Game 2 of the ALCS, when he openly chastised a performance in which he "came up small in a big game," but last night Curt Schilling was the full-sized version of his postseason self, moving the Red Sox one giant step closer to the World Series.
"Those are the moments you don't ever forget," said Schilling, reflecting on his thoughts upon leaving the game after pitching the seventh, the Sox well on their way to a 12-2 drubbing of the Indians, setting up tonight's Game 7 at Fenway Park. "This environment . . . this stadium . . . these people. I don't think you'll ever hear the idea of 'home-field advantage' pooh-poohed again."
All in all, said Schilling, "It has been a privilege to play here."
Last seen struggling in Game 2 here last Saturday, the 40-year-old Schilling looked far more like the Schilling of old, the Schilling of lore, right from the first inning. He set down Grady Sizemore (grounder to short), Asdrubal Cabrera (grounder to second), and Travis Hafner (strikeout, swinging) to open the night, and by the time he came back to the mound to start the second he had four runs, courtesy of J.D. Drew's grand slam.
Schilling's only significant wrinkle in the early going came in the top of the second, leadoff hitter Victor Martinez blasting a home run to right that cut the lead to 4-1. Not the least bit flustered (three-run leads act as great angst-reducers), he promptly set down Ryan Garko, Jhonny Peralta, and Kenny Lofton.
"He really, really pitched like the guy that we needed," said Sox skipper Terry Francona.
His lead still at 4-1, Schilling appeared to be in trouble early in the third when Trot Nixon started off by lashing a single to right, followed by a Casey Blake single to left. Two on, none out, and the Indians now at the top of the order.
"Just make sure you make the pitch," Schilling said he kept repeating to himself. "Just make sure you make the pitch." That has been the mantra, Schilling said during the Fox broadcast, that he has developed along with pitching coach John Farrell.
"That inning," Schilling added later in the night, "was pretty much a microcosm of the season. It was all the lessons that [Farrell] has drilled into my head . . . focus pitch to pitch . . . execute pitch to pitch. The next two hitters [following the back-to-back singles], I was just trying to make sure I executed the pitch. And game-plan wise, [Jason Varitek] was perfect, and it worked out."
He got Sizemore to line to right, Cabrera to fly to right, and Hafner to ground out.
Schilling may not be overpowering any longer, his fastball reduced to the high-80s (m.p.h.), but he still possesses outstanding, sometimes pinpoint, control.
Having tiptoed out of any damage in the third, Schilling found himself standing on Easy Street when he returned for the fourth, his free-swinging teammates having tacked on six more runs in their third for a 10-1 lead. Bring on the rocking chair. What's better for a guy who can't overpower people than to be put in a position in which he doesn't have to overpower them?
"He was throwing fastballs and splitters early," noted Francona. "Then as the game went on [and the lead increased], he went more to changeups and cutters . . . he didn't have his best fastball, but he located it really well."
The final line for Schilling: 7 innings, 6 hits, 2 runs (both earned) and 5 strikeouts.
Martinez led off the fourth with a single to left. And again, Schilling set down the next three hitters in order, a frame that included his third strikeout (Peralta) of the night. Trot Nixon led off the fifth with a single - the fourth straight inning Schilling allowed a leadoff hit - but a Blake fly to left and a tailor-made double play grounder by Sizemore (4-6-3), once more ended any threat.
Whatever psychic energy the Indians had left, they already had fast-forwarded it to today's Game 7 as Schilling worked deeper into the night. For the first time since the first inning, he set the Indians down in order in the sixth, and in the process picked up strikeouts four and five in Hafner and Martinez.
The curtain closer for Big Schill was the seventh, a frame that opened with a Garko triple off the wall in left-center, near the spot where Fred Lynn was nearly knocked cold in the '75 Series while trying to flag down a blast. Garko promptly came around to score the Tribe's second run when Peralta followed with a deep sacrifice fly to right.
The rest of the seventh was easy pickings for Schilling, retiring Lofton on a grounder and Nixon on a lineout. Knowing that his work was finished, Schilling slowly made his way to the dugout amid a standing ovation of the 37,163 faithful.
A few feet from the top step, he removed his cap with his right hand and waved it to the crowd, a gesture both of thanks and farewell. It was 10:59 p.m., perhaps his final moment in a Sox uniform if tonight proves unkind to the Nation.
Kevin Paul Dupont can be reached at email@example.com.