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Wednesday, October 20, 2004
Updated: May 31, 2:25 PM ET
Losing baggage in the Bronx

By Bill Simmons
Page 2

**FILED AT 3:30 AM, WEDNESDAY MORNING**

Blank screen.

I'm staring at a blank screen.

(Come on ... type something ... )

FOLLOW THE ALCS
From the Sports Guy Mansion West to the Simmons Family Compound back East, it's all Red Sox Nation, all the time:
  • ALCS Game 5 Revisited
  • ALCS Pre-Game 4 Chat
  • ALCS Game 3 Quick Thoughts
  • ALCS Game 2 Diary
  • ALCS Game 1 Diary
  • ALCS Q&A
  • ALCS Breakdown
  • What can you say? What can you say about Curt Schilling? How many words are enough? 500? 2,000? 10,000? This wasn't just an ankle sprain. His right sock was covered in blood, thanks to three sutures (!?!?!?!) holding together his dislocated ankle tendon. In Game 1, that same tendon was popping. This time it was leaking blood. He didn't care. The team needed him.

    So Schilling kept pitching. Put his career on the line. Gritted through the next three hours at Yankee Stadium -- seven innings, 25 batters, 99 pitches in all. Won the game. Kept the team alive. Hugged everyone in the dugout when he was cooked. Stuck in a dip, sat back and waited for the ESPN Classic royalties to start pouring in.

    It was that good. Win or lose on Wednesday night, the Schilling Game takes its place alongside the Willis Reed Game, MJ's Flu Game, Bird banging his head against the Pacers and everything else in the Sheer Guts Pantheon. Sitting in the dugout between innings, he threw a towel over his head and stared at the ground, hands pressed against his ears, looking like someone who just finished a harrowing plane flight. All he needed was a barf bag and the cast of "Lost" standing behind him.

    ONE FINE DAY
    It might be hard to believe -- but we've got another Sox-Yanks Game 7 on our hands. And this one could change everything.
    I don't know how he did it. There was nothing different about his situation from Game 1, other than the O.J. sock, the sutures and the hands of God (his words, not mine). The Red Sox made a big deal about this "emergency boot" from Reebok, a device that would stabilize Schilling's damaged ankle tendon, but I'm starting to wonder if they bought that device on eBay from Sidd Finch and the Easter Bunny. Schilling didn't even wear it. This was about heart. This was about coming through when it mattered most. This was about choosing to pitch for a tortured franchise, promising that things would be different, and then perservering only because you gave your word.

    Over the next few days, everyone will make a big deal about Schilling's Game 6, only some for the right reasons. We live in a sports world where every good moment gets beaten into the ground. It isn't enough for something to happen anymore. You have to vote. You have to watch two guys screaming on a split-screen. You have to read 400 columns, then columns by people reviewing those columns. You have to hear sports radio hosts screaming, and once the subject becomes exhausted, one of them takes a crazy angle on the topic just to keep the phone lines ringing for another hour. It keeps going and going, a vicious little snowball. When it runs out of steam, something else replaces it, and the whole cycle starts all over again.

    Curt Schilling
    Schilling's recipe for success: A lot of heart, some sutures and the hand of God.
    I don't want the Schilling Game to fall into that. I don't want to hear someone claiming that he "wasn't that hurt," or that it "doesn't matter if they don't win Game 7," or even that Schilling was "milking the moment." You're not taking this away from me. This was even better than Pedro coming out of the bullpen five years ago in Cleveland, and I never thought I would say that about any Red Sox pitcher.

    In my three decades of following Boston sports, my favorite underrated performance belongs to Kevin McHale, who limped around on a broken foot for two straight months in the 1987 playoffs. The doctors explained the risks to him: If he kept playing, there was a chance his foot would never be the same. He would never get the same lift again. That's what they told him. He didn't care. They were the defending champs. They needed him. So he played. He was never quite the same. Years later, when he was asked about the decision, McHale explained that you only have so many chances to win a championship, so you do what you have to do. It's that simple.

    Even though Schilling was at a different point of his career, the mindset remains the same. After you win one, you just want to get back there .. even with a popping ankle tendon, with a suture leaking blood, with 46-degree weather making your legs quiver, with the hopes of an entire region resting on your back. Schilling risked his career and came through. Sometimes in sports, we have a tendency to remember the scarring moments and forget the great ones. I just hope we don't forget this one. Even when people are screamingon a split-screen.

    (We'll be back on the "Sports Reporters" after this.)


    So what happens Wednesday night? I'm probably the wrong person to ask. I haven't slept in four days. My back feels like Schilling rammed his protective shoe against it. Even my jaw is sore -- from chewing gum like a madman during Game 5. The classic move would be for the Sox to come back, win three games in a row, then lose the climactic 7th game. But this isn't a classic Red Sox team. The old Red Sox would have blown Game 4 or Game 5, and they definitely would have choked in Game 6. With the old Red Sox, Bellhorn's homer gets ruled a double, A-Rod definitely gets called safe at first base, and Miguel Cairo clears the bases for the game-winner in the ninth.

    Here's the point: Those things haven't been happening. Sometimes you pass a point where history becomes a factor -- like with the Patriots three years ago, when the diehards kept waiting for the Other Shoe to drop, and we were waiting and waiting, and suddenly Vinatieri's final kick split the uprights, the most liberating feeling you can imagine. That's the thing about baggage as a sports fan -- you can shed this stuff. You just need a few breaks. This Boston team is getting them.

    I'm not making any predictions. I'm not even trying to be coherent. Just remember the following things heading into the game:

    1. In less than 24 hours, you could be hearing someone say the following sentence: "So the Red Sox completed the most dramatic comeback in baseball history rallying from three games to zero to defeat the New York Yankees and make the World Series, where they'll be facing off against Roger Clemens and the Houston Astros in Game 1."

    2. If the roles were reversed, Red Sox Nation would be having a collective coronary right now. Repeat: Coronary. I can't imagine what New York is like. And the thought of Steinbrenner's potential reaction to the biggest choke in sports history ... I mean, even if you're NOT a Red Sox fan, you have to be rooting for this, right? Couldn't you see him having Cashman drawn and quartered before the Winter Meetings?

    3. You could make a case that this Yankee team has more pressure tonight than any baseball team in recent memory -- not only will they be the guys who finally lost to the Red Sox, they will be the guys who choked away a 3-0 lead. Meanwhile, this Red Sox team is still playing with the house's money. It's an interesting role reversal, although the end result is that I'm still peeing blood either way.

    4. My editor Brick points this out: If the Sox pull this off, for the foreseeable future, every time you're watching a playoff series (in any sport) where someone's up 3-0 and they show the "Teams that have come back from 3-0" graphic, they will feel obliged to mention the 2004 Red Sox. The moment will live on. And on. And on.

    Alex Rodriguez
    The t-shirt guys in Boston are printing up "A-Fraud" as we speak.
    5. This isn't the 1996-1999 Yankees. Only four guys remain from that team. You can only get away with relying on so many Tanyon Sturtze- and Tony Clark-types before it catches up with you. I keep telling myself this.

    6. The Buckner-Armbrister flashback play in Game 6 clearly exposed A-Rod as a liar and cheater of the highest order -- the kind who would turn over an "R" in Scrabble and pretend it's a blank letter. Warrants mentioning.

    7. If the Yankees are down by two runs in the ninth inning, and somebody walks -- like Matsui did in Game 6 -- apparently it's as good as a home run. That's how Tim McCarver explained it last night. I'm not sure if just the Yankees are immune to double plays, or if it's everyone in the league. But it's an interesting development.

    8. I'm thinking that All-Star Game rules apply tonight -- everyone pitches a couple of innings for the Sox, nobody stays on the mound for too long. Eighteen years ago in Shea Stadium, faced with a similar situation, the always-incompetent John McNamara screwed things up, relieving Bruce Hurst with Calvin Schiraldi and Al Nipper when he could have used Oil Can Boyd and even Roger Clemens. Things will be different this time around. Say what you want about Terry Francona -- and I have -- but he's certainly been willing to bend the standard bullpen rules during this series, for better and worse.

    9. If the Red Sox prevail against the Yankees and win the World Series, you will never have to read me whining about the travails of Red Sox fans again.

    10. Read that last sentence again.

    Bill Simmons is a columnist for Page 2 and ESPN The Magazine. His Sports Guy's World site is updated every day Monday through Friday.