A complete makeover

Schilling settling into his new role

By Jackie MacMullan
Globe Staff / October 25, 2007

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It's all different now. Curt Schilling is no longer the ace, no longer the bloody, conquering hero, no longer the pitcher the Boston Red Sox turn to for magic, miracles, and magnificence.

That role is now held by Josh Beckett, last night's winner in Game 1 of the World Series, the guy Schilling declared yesterday is "the best pitcher on the planet."

You wonder what it's like to spend the majority of your career among the elite, and then, upon your arrival at the grandest baseball stage of them all, a stage you have starred on in three previous postseasons, to recognize your role has been reduced.

The expectations for Schilling have been modified. He is no longer the headliner, no longer required to implore his teammates, as he did in 2004 (and as Celtic Cedric Maxwell did so famously 26 years ago), to "Jump on my back, boys."

It has been a work in progress, this transformation, and it hasn't always been smooth. Schilling showed up to spring training overweight. He was shelled on Opening Day by the Royals in Kansas City. There are times when Schilling has been guessing, just like we have, about the quality of his stuff. Some nights, the fastball hits the low 90s, and others, particularly in later innings, it tops off at 88 miles per hour. For a power pitcher who made a living consistently throwing 97, there must have been moments this season when the stark reality of his own mortality had to be sobering, if not downright disconcerting.

"The frustrating part of it is gone," Schilling explained last night. "I've accepted the fact that I'll go out and get loose and whatever it is, and whatever I have has to work.

"What it's done has placed a lot more emphasis on the preparation aspect of it, and the amount of time and effort I have to put into watching video and going through the scouting reports."

So which pitcher will show up tonight for Game 2? Will it be the ageless marvel who threw seven shutout innings in a 3-0 clinching win in the American League Division Series to broom the Angels? Or will it be the laboring veteran in Game 2 of the AL Championship Series against Cleveland, who was tagged for five runs on nine hits in just 4 2/3 innings?

He doesn't know for sure. Neither does pitching coach John Farrell nor manager Terry Francona. But the Sox skipper said he will bank on the mental toughness of an old-school pitcher who thrives on challenges.

"His makeup has never changed," Francona said. "If anything, it's gotten better just because he hasn't lost the ability to follow a game plan or compete."

Schilling's preparation is well documented, from the meticulous notes in his notebook to the countless hours studying video. He checked out Colorado's Game 2 starter, Ubaldo Jimenez, because he surmised he might see something he can pass along to his teammates, and because he prefers to size up the entire body of work of his opponent, not just the batters who determine his fate.

"There's a couple schools of thought on that," Schilling said. "There's some guys who say, 'I don't have to pitch against the other guy, I have to just pitch against the lineup.' For me, I've always tried to use that as incentive.

"I've heard nothing but rave reviews about [Jimenez's] stuff, and he's done well in the postseason, which means he's answered the first question, which is, 'Can he handle the pressure?' Secondly, he's never faced a lineup like ours, so I'm hoping that's a good thing for us."

Schilling pitched against the Rockies June 13 and lasted just five-plus innings. He was chased from the game by Brad Hawpe's three-run homer and took the loss in a 12-2 shellacking in which he gave up six runs (five earned) and nine hits.

Hey, he looked bad, but June 13 might as well have been two seasons ago. So much has happened to Schilling since, including a lengthy stint on the disabled list with shoulder tendinitis.

Schilling's stellar postseason reputation will likely remain intact, regardless of what happens tonight.

There's another subtle pressure attached to Schilling's performance tonight. Every time he takes the mound, he knows it could be his final game in a Red Sox uniform. Boston's front office gambled and let Schilling play out the string this season rather than extending his contract knowing if he put up gaudy numbers, they would have to pay dearly to retain him.

The front office has not regretted its strategy. Schilling finished the season 9-8 with a respectable 3.87 ERA in 24 starts. The shoulder tendinitis kept him sidelined from June 19 to Aug. 6, and there are as many questions about his future in this town as there were when the season started.

Asked if he had thought about the fact his days with the Red Sox could be dwindling, Schilling answered, "I've thought about it. I've had a couple of starts now where it could have been my last one. But it's not something beyond the initial disappointment of the possibility."

He can't afford to ponder that now. He's got to worry about Todd Helton, who is batting .200 in the postseason, but .333 against him with five homers in 54 at-bats. He's got to watch Hawpe, who ruined his day the last time the Rockies were in town.

Sure it's all different now - except for the desired result.

Curt Schilling wants to win - and he doesn't care whether he's bloody magnificent or not while he's doing it.

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