DENVER - It has been a season-long marketing campaign. From the moment Curt Schilling walked into the Red Sox' spring training facilities in Fort Myers, Fla., to the moment he walked into the champagne spray Sunday night, he has been working on himself, on himself for next season. Not that it was always overt - though there were certainly moments - but Schilling was fashioning himself into a pitcher that would not just finish out 2007. He wanted more. He wanted 2008.
After the Red Sox declined to re-sign Schilling for $13 million in spring training, his asking price at the time, when he came to camp in less-than-optimal physical condition, the pitcher remade himself throughout the season. He developed a changeup, became comfortable with his lack of power, and continued his postseason dominance. His second-half resurrection after a six-week layoff was one of the major reasons the Red Sox won the second World Series of Schilling's tenure in Boston.
"This is a very different team, a very different organization, than the Red Sox of your father's days," Schilling said amid the postgame celebration after Game 4. "I don't think that's going to change. I think that they're going to continue - and hopefully we're going to continue - to be a force. We have young, we have old. And it starts at the top with Mr. [John] Henry, Mr. [Tom] Werner, and Mr. [Larry] Lucchino, and their commitment to us and our families."
But, despite his well-documented desire to remain in Boston, there are no assurances. General manager Theo Epstein and the brain trust do not have a record of signing players for sentimental reasons. If they do not believe that Schilling can perform or they cannot sign him at the right price, his heroics in 2004 and 2007 will not swing the balance.
He already has put his Medfield house on the market, and raised some eyebrows during the regular season when he suggested he would be open to pitching for Tampa Bay next season. He posted on the Sons of Sam Horn websites about his contract situation during the postseason. He mentioned, multiple times, in the postgame clubhouse after the clincher on Sunday that it would be nice to stay with the Red Sox.
Oh, he was celebrating, too. There was no question about that.
"The fun in this is that Jon Lester pitches the clincher and Bobby Kielty literally hits the game-winning home run," Schilling said. "There is no more or less [important player] in this clubhouse. We love each other."
Schilling, who was one out away from a no-hitter against Oakland June 7, felt a distinct loss of velocity and effectiveness in a start in Atlanta June 18. Shortly after, he was placed on the disabled list and shut down until Aug. 6. And, as Schilling came to understand, despite a brief uptick in the speed of his fastball, that did not mean he could pitch the way he had for most of his career. Like Josh Beckett.
So he turned to finesse. And with a fastball that hovered in the high 80s, he got people out. His command, always exemplary, needed to be pinpoint. Despite balls that were smoked, he won games against the Angels, Indians, and Rockies in the postseason, giving up eight runs in 24 innings over four starts. Though he wasn't the ace, he was a necessary and key piece to the championship.
Reminded that he had just won the third ring of his career, as he was wrapping up with the media Sunday night, Schilling was asked how nice that was.
"Yeah, it is nice," he said. "I'd like to stick around and get one more and walk away."
Amalie Benjamin can be reached at email@example.com.