Right pitch key for both sides

Originally Published: November 24, 2003
By Jayson Stark | ESPN.com

So now we know what Curt Schilling is going to have for Thanksgiving dinner:

Curt Schilling
Reuters/JT LovetteCurt Schilling went 8-9 last season, but struck out 194 batters in 168 innings.

Turkey, stuffing and Larry Lucchino.

Yes, by Thursday, there's no telling how many Red Sox executives and goodwill ambassadors might be sitting around Schilling's table, trying to convince him he's destined to be the man to pitch the Red Sox to their first World Series victory parade since Babe Ruth was their No. 4 starter.

But that's the sales pitch Schilling is about to hear, once Lucchino and GM Theo Epstein arrive at his doorstep. Which should happen Wednesday, barring any more unforeseen twists and turns in this saga.

Before anybody in upstate Vermont starts barreling toward Fenway to line up for World Series tickets, though, we need to remind you of one thing: This is the Red Sox.

So just because they're coming, and just because Schilling is more than willing to listen, that does not mean he and Pedro can start flipping coins to see who starts Game 7 next October.

"I'm dealing with this situation exactly how I would if I were a free agent and Boston was a city I was interested in," Schilling told ESPN.com Monday night. "And I'm going to assess things just the way a free agent would who was thinking about going somewhere.

"I'm concerned about a lot of things -- and many of them are not just in the clubhouse and on the field. They're personal, family issues. And they're things I have to think about in a very condensed time frame, because by Friday at 5 o'clock, somebody has to have a decision."

And Schilling is already concerned about whether he'll be able to make this big a decision that fast. He is deciding, essentially, where he will pitch for the rest of his career. And that's not a decision he figures to take lightly.

"In a sense, I'm still standing on the mound with the ball in my hand," he said, "because nothing has been determined. And nothing will be determined without my wife and I saying yes. That's just like I'm on the mound. I'm in full control of the situation until the ball leaves my hand. So now, the most important thing to me, in this situation, is to make the right pitch."

But what is the right pitch? Here's a look at what will have to happen for the Red Sox to get this deal done:

THE CONTRACT

Since Schilling just turned 37 and is signed through next season, a two-year extension would take him through his 30s. He has sent mixed signals about whether he is looking for two more years beyond his current contract, or three.

" This is about what's best for the Schilling family. "
Curt Schilling

But in a surreal news conference Monday, with 11 satellite trucks parked outside his Arizona driveway, he did make clear that "I won't leave here without an extension. So there will be an extension of some sort."

He has heard all the rumors that he will ask the Red Sox for a two-year, $30 million extension. But he wonders exactly where all those rumors came from.

"No one knows what I'm asking," he told ESPN.com, "because I haven't asked for anything yet, from anybody. I'm going to play till I'm 40. I know that. So if that means two years, plus an option (that vests under certain conditions), so be it."

But whatever the structure of the contract turns out to be, it won't be the numbers after the dollar sign that makes this decision for him, he said.

"This is about what's best for the Schilling family," he said. "I'm making money on top of money I'll never get to spend. Money is not going to determine where I'm going to finish my career. I'll get what I feel I'm worth. And the length of time in the contract will have a lot to do with it. But the contract value itself will not be a deal-breaker."

So that leads to the next logical question: What could be the deal-breaker?

THE FRANCHISE

For weeks now, as all these Schilling rumors have swirled, you didn't need a clairvoyant to know that of the three teams pursuing Schilling, the Red Sox were No. 3 on his list.

His first choice was to go back to Philadelphia, where he still owns a home. But the Diamondbacks and Phillies never got close on players. His second choice was the Yankees, for the chance to make himself a part of Yankees history and an almost guaranteed ride to another October or three. But the Yankees chose to explore other, theoretically less complicated, options.

Francona
Francona

The Red Sox, meanwhile, were a team he'd given indications he wasn't even interested in. But then everything changed. And you can sum up that change in two words: Terry Francona.

As Schilling began hearing that Francona -- who managed him in Philadelphia for four years -- was all but a lock to get the Red Sox managerial job, he began to rethink his skepticism of Boston.

"I just made it known that he'd be the reason I'd be interested in going to Boston," Schilling said during his news conference. "I only said that because I understand he's almost a slam dunk, anyway. ... If he takes the job, that doesn't mean I'm a Red Sox. But him coming there, that's something that's attractive to me."

But Schilling is also a guy who has studied practically as much history as Doris Kearns Goodwin. So nobody would have to get out a Baseball Encyclopedia to explain to him what it would mean to be thought of as a guy who helped blow away The Curse.

The Yankees and Phillies have won the World Series in his lifetime. But to win in Boston, he said, would mean "doing something no one has seen in their lifetime."

He also admits to being impressed by how relentless Epstein was in getting this trade agreed to, when all odds were against it ever getting this far.

"Boston was obsessively proactive on this," he said. "And that impresses me."

That, however, doesn't mean there won't be other issues.

THE BALLPARK

It wasn't long ago that Schilling was suggesting that he and Fenway Park weren't exactly made for each other.

"I'm a fly-ball pitcher," he told the Philadelphia Inquirer's Jim Salisbury two weeks ago. "And that's a fly-ball park."

But by Monday, he had learned that wasn't exactly true. According to Baseball Info Solutions, nine American League ballparks were easier to hit a home run in than Fenway was this year. So unless he hears otherwise as he surveys his friends around baseball over the next few days, the ballpark might not be as big a factor as previously thought.

"I looked at the numbers," he told ESPN.com. "It's harder to hit a home run there than I thought. Pedro ran a 2.30 (ERA) up there. So I know it can be done."

THE BIG PICTURE

But even if the Red Sox can satisfy him on the years and the money and the manager and the ballpark, their job won't be done.

"There are so many issues running through my mind that I have to deal with," he said. "I have a lot of questions. And only the Red Sox can answer those questions. From everything I know about Theo Epstein, he's going to have all those answers by the time he gets here Wednesday. But whether those answers are good or bad is something my wife and I will have to decide."

Some of those questions will be family-type questions, life-type questions. But there will also be baseball questions that many pitchers wouldn't ask. We are talking about one of the most preparation-conscious pitchers who ever lived. So he will be determined to make sure he won't have to cut any corners, just because he's playing in a 92-year-old ballpark.

"There are a lot of things I feel like I have to do to pitch successfully," Schilling said. "And I'll ask about all those things -- from the video set-up, to the advance scouting staff to whatever. They're going to pay me a lot of money to win baseball games and be successful. I put everything I have into being as successful as I can be every time I pitch. And these things are important to me."

But when he gets all those answers, he will still have a monumental decision to make. He also might wonder, in the back of his mind, whether the Yankees and/or Phillies could still make another run at him if he says no to the Red Sox.

So if Theo Epstein thought just getting this deal made with the Diamondbacks was a challenge, he might not even have surmounted his biggest challenge of the week. Now he needs to figure out how to prepare the greatest Thanksgiving stuffing of his life.

Jayson Stark is a senior writer for ESPN.com. Click here to send Jayson a question for possible use on ESPNEWS.

Jayson Stark | email

Senior Writer, ESPN.com

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