Before the bloody sock, Curt Schilling was a pitcher in ruin: Injured, ineffective, unsure whether he would be able to help the Boston Red Sox reach the World Series, much less win it.
With his ankle disintegrating beneath his once-powerful push-off, the right-hander was chased from a playoff outing after three innings and scratched from his next start in the 2004 AL championship series against the New York Yankees.
What Schilling &
and the Red Sox &
did next is part of baseball lore.
"He really shouldn't have pitched," Boston manager Terry Francona said Friday before putting the team's season in Schilling's hands again. "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. So I guess that kind of sums up how I feel about Schill."
And that more than sums up Boston's attitude about sending Schilling out to pitch Game 6 of the ALCS against Cleveland on Saturday night, one week after the second-worst start of his postseason career. Fausto Carmona will also try to overcome a shaky Game 2 start and pitch the Indians into the World Series.
"It's very simple now," Schilling said. "I go out and do my job tomorrow and we win, or I don't and we lose. I don't think that that's too much pressure or too little. It's just reality.
"We put ourselves in this position, and I helped put us in this position, for better or worse. I've got the ball tomorrow, and if I can do what I know I'm capable of doing and I can execute, we can win. And if I don't, then it's going to be very, very tough."
Schilling and Carmona both made it tough on their teams a week ago, when neither made it out of the fifth inning. The Indians won that one when they scored seven runs in the 11th, and they put the Red Sox on the brink of elimination before Josh Beckett beat Cleveland for the second time Thursday.
The Red Sox returned to Fenway Park after the game, but the Indians waited until Friday to fly. Other than that, manager Eric Wedge gave his team the day off.
"We weren't going to the ballpark expecting to lose," he said. "We were going to the ballpark expecting to win, so if it didn't come out we were going to come in today."
Schilling gave up five runs in 4 2-3 innings in Game 2, then spent six days watching his team try to extend the series long enough to give him another chance. But that was only the second-worst playoff start of Schilling's career: The worst was in Game 2 of the '04 series against the Yankees, when Schilling gave up six runs and limped off the mound, unable to come out for the fourth inning or his next scheduled start, either.
With his ankle tendon sutured in place and blood seeping out of his stitches, he held the Yankees to one run over seven innings to force a decisive seventh game. After Boston won that one, Schilling repeated the procedure with six solid innings against the St. Louis Cardinals to put the Red Sox on the road to a World Series sweep.
Before losing to the Yankees in '04, Schilling hadn't lost a postseason game since the 1993 Series, when he allowed six earned runs in 6 1-3 innings for Philadelphia against Toronto; his next start was a five-hit shutout. In his career, Schilling is 9-2 with a 2.23 ERA in the postseason.
"He's had a tremendous career, and a tremendous postseason career. I think that's well-documented," Wedge said. "You could just go ahead and put that on the side, because the only thing that matters is (Saturday) night."
And no one in the Boston clubhouse &
certainly no one who was around for the '04 season &
doubts whether Schilling can bounce back again.
"He won't panic. He wanted the ball three days ago. It's good for us," catcher Jason Varitek said. "I honestly thought he pitched better than his linescore. He gave up a three-run homer. That was the big one."
But if Schilling can turn things around, so can Carmona.
Wedge said the 23-year-old right-hander's problem was trying to be too precise with his pitches instead of sticking with the form that enabled him to win 19 games in the regular season. Carmona, who flopped out of the closer's role in a 2006 visit to Fenway, said he wasn't worried about pitching in a hostile park or facing one of the best postseason pitchers in baseball history.
"I'm not going to be intimidated by anything," Carmona said. "I'm not thinking even about Schilling. I'm thinking about the hitters that I've got to face."
There could be some changes there, too.
With Coco Crisp and J.D. Drew struggling, the Red Sox could insert rookie Jacoby Ellsbury into the outfield for the first time in the playoffs. Francona said he hadn't decided on a lineup yet, but he acknowledged that Crisp is struggling.
Crisp was one of a handful of players who took part in Friday's optional workout, but he declined comment when approached by reporters. Because of the intermittent rain showers, the field was covered and those players wanting to hit worked out in a batting cage.
Potential Game 7 starter Daisuke Matsuzaka played long toss in the outfield. The Red Sox will only need him if Schilling gives them a chance to win Game 6.
"We've got a guy going against us who I don't envision will back up that last start with another bad one," Schilling said. "So it's all about me being able to answer the bell and us being able to manufacture some runs against one of the best pitchers in the game."
Back home, Sox try to extend ALCS