4 The Thrill of Schill
Curt Schilling’s sock was bloodied by the popping sutures in his right ankle as he pitched the Red Sox to a 4-2 win in Game 6 of the American League Championship Series in 2004 against the Yankees, tying the series at 3-3.
That moment was every bit as heroic as Dodgers outfielder Kirk Gibson hobbling around the bases after a Game 1 homer off Oakland’s Dennis Eckersley in the 1988 World Series. It was every bit as dramatic as a gimpy-legged Willis Reed limping on the court at Madison Square Garden in the 1970 NBA Finals against the Lakers.
This was science at its best. Sox team physician Dr. William Morgan had performed a creative procedure on Schilling’s dislocated tendon in his right ankle, suturing the tendon to the skin. Blood seeped through the sock on his right ankle early in the game, but Schilling hung in for 99 pitches, exiting with a 4-1 lead in the seventh.
It was an incredible long shot that Schilling would even be able to pitch that day and, if he did, he knew it would be a one-shot deal. Schilling held his cards close to his vest, leaving the sports world on tenterhooks almost up to game time. Would he be able to play? He warmed up on the side before the game. The plan was that if he felt his ankle could stand up to the pregame workout, he would pitch. There was also a less ambitious Plan B: for Schilling to perhaps face a couple of batters in relief. But that wasn’t good enough for Schilling.
“There’s no game tomorrow,” he said. “It’s all about right now. It can be done. I could do it.” He convinced manager Terry Francona and pitching coach Dave Wallace to let him go out there. He did it again in Game 2 of the World Series despite having awoken almost unable to walk because his ankle was so stiff. Dr. Morgan again sprang into action and cut a suture, freeing movement in Schilling’s ankle and allowing him to pitch six very good innings against the St. Louis Cardinals.
Schilling has had a storybook career. He’s won three championships:
2001 with Arizona, when he and Randy Johnson formed an unbeatable one-two punch, and two more with Boston in 2004 and 2007. Schilling was drafted by the Red Sox in 1986 but was included in a blockbuster deal made by Sox general manager Lou Gorman in 1988 that sent Brady Anderson and Schilling to the Baltimore Orioles for veteran right-hander Mike Boddicker. Schilling returned to the Sox as a free agent prior to the 2004 season.
At 41 years old Schilling will start the 2008 season with 216 career wins and 146 losses. He’s 11-2 in 19 postseason starts with a 2.23 ERA and 4-1 with a 2.06 ERA in the World Series. Without question he’s one of the best postseason performers in the history of the game, which could be a major reason why he will certainly get Hall of Fame consideration.
It’s not known whether ’08 will be his last season, but in ’07 Schilling, a three-time 20-game winner, though never a Cy Young winner, began to reinvent himself. Formerly a classic power pitcher — he threw 96-97 mph at the height of his career — he has now become a finesse pitcher who emphasizes off-speed pitches instead of relying on pure speed.
Besides a Cy Young, the other accomplishment that has eluded Schilling is a no-hitter. On June 7, 2007, in Oakland, he had that chance. If only he hadn’t shaken off Jason Varitek. That’s when Shannon Stewart stroked a single to right to end the no-hit bid. “I should have listened to Jason,” said Schilling.
Schilling is a very opinionated person. He often states his case on his blog, 38pitches.com, which has become a popular site among Red Sox fans.