Commentary

Where there's Schill, there's a way in October

Originally Published: October 25, 2007
By Jayson Stark | ESPN.com

BOSTON -- He isn't even the ultimate October warrior in his own starting rotation anymore.

But October is still Curt Schilling's kind of month.

His socks are 100 percent blood-free these days.

But October is still Curt Schilling's kind of month.

He's a man whose first World Series win, 14 Octobers ago, was a 147-pitch complete-game shutout. Now, on the other hand, he's a man who had to huff and puff his way through 5 1/3 innings and 82 pitches Thursday night to add another Series victory to his ever-growing collection.

But October is still Curt Schilling's kind of month.

Oh, we know -- and he knows -- that the Red Sox's 2-1 victory over Colorado in Game 2 of this World Series won't go down in the October ledger as "The Curt Schilling Show." Not when you stack it up against Bloody Sock Month, or October 2001, or the astounding 1993 NLCS, a series in which Schilling somehow won an LCS MVP award without winning even one frigging game.

But there was still something about him, even in a game like this, that sums up why Curt Schilling is as comfortable on this dance floor as any pitcher who ever lived.

WORLD SERIES

Rockies-Red Sox
series page

"This is the only place," he told ESPN.com afterward, "where you can find out how far you can push yourself, because it's the ultimate pass-or-fail test. There is no gray area in the postseason. You can have a mediocre season. But you can't have a mediocre postseason. You either win it all or lose it all. So when you get in this situation, it's the ultimate pass-or-fail exam.

"So many people are afraid to fail, or freeze up in games like this or at times like this. But this is liberating for me, because it's a way -- regardless of what happens, April through September -- to redefine everything anybody ever thought about you. So I look at this as an opportunity, as opposed to something to fear."

But these nights are more than just opportunities to recast public opinion or reshape his own personal legend. At this point, they're also opportunities for Curt Schilling to rewrite another line or three in the October history books. So here come the lines he rewrote Thursday:

• He's now the only starting pitcher in history who can say he's won a World Series game in his 20s, his 30s and his 40s.

• He's now one of only two starting pitchers -- Kenny Rogers being the other -- who can say he's won a World Series game after turning 40.

• And the Elias Sports Bureau reports that, by winning Series games 14 years apart, Schilling is now just the second pitcher ever to record World Series wins that many years apart or longer. Jim Palmer (17 years) is the other.

Those are very cool feats, very cool little slices of October trivia, very cool tidbits to file away for some future "Who's The Greatest Postseason Pitcher Ever?" debate.

Here, however, comes the number that's Schilling's personal favorite -- .846.

That's his career postseason winning percentage. And it's now the best winning percentage in baseball history among all pitchers with at least 10 postseason decisions.

Whether you love him or hate him, whether you root for him or against him, you have to admit this about Curt Schilling: His postseason numbers are getting downright insane.

No matter how many times you look at them, they tell the tale of a pitcher who has risen to these moments as successfully as any starting pitcher we've ever laid eyes on.

[+] EnlargeCurt Schilling
Szczerbowski/US PresswireCurt Schilling shut down the Rockies with savvy and splitters and improved to 11-2 with a 2.23 ERA in 19 postseason starts.

Go ahead. Check them out.

He's now 11-2, with a 2.23 ERA, in his 19 postseason trips to the mound.

He's now 4-1, 2.06, in seven career World Series starts.

And he's now 6-1, 3.28, in eight postseason starts for the Red Sox.

Maybe he can't reach back for that old 97-mph flameball the way he used to. But his manager, Terry Francona, admits that when he points Schilling toward the mound in games like this, he has just as much trust in him as he ever has.

Why? How? Simply because of "his will to make sure the score ends up in our favor," Francona said.

"I've been around him so long," the manager went on, "I probably expect unfair things out of him. But that probably won't stop. It's a good feeling when he pitches."

There might be no better way to sum up the difference between the Curt Schilling of 2007 and the Curt Schilling of yesteryear than this:

In the first postseason start of Schilling's life -- Game 1 of the 1993 NLCS, against Atlanta -- he struck out the first five hitters he ever faced in any October baseball game.

And on Thursday, 14 years later, he faced 22 hitters, threw 82 pitches and got just five swings and misses all night.

Yet even though this was also a game in which Schilling wriggled out of enough adventures that he had to throw 43 of his 82 pitches with at least one runner on base, his catcher, Jason Varitek, was still able to say afterward: "I never had the feeling he was in trouble all night." And that tells you as much about the man on the mound as it does about a Rockies offense so dismal that it has scraped together only two runs in two nights.

Fourteen years ago -- heck, even three years ago -- the secret to Schilling's October domination was his ability to point his fastball wherever he needed to point it, and to power it past the greatest hitters on earth.

Now, on the other hand, he survives on different secrets -- smarts and preparation and location. But somehow, in games like this, he still finds a way to make it work.

[Schilling] comes as close to executing a game plan as anybody I've seen. ... There's just a good flow to the game, because you know that whatever he wants to do on the mound, he's able to do it.

--Red Sox third baseman Mike Lowell

"He comes as close to executing a game plan as anybody I've seen," said third baseman Mike Lowell. "When you're playing defense and you see your catcher set up away, he doesn't miss in, and that adds a lot. It puts the defense in position to make plays. And there's just a good flow to the game, because you know that whatever he wants to do on the mound, he's able to do it."

Well, not quite. What he really wants to do in games like this is take the ball and not give it back until it's time to shake hands. But that ain't happening anymore.

This Curt Schilling is a guy whose team handled him so carefully late in the year that he was pitching on regular rest Thursday for the first time in a month and a half.

This Curt Schilling had so much trouble getting loose heading into the sixth inning that Francona said he took one look at Schilling's body language and knew "it was time to get him out of there."

Listening to those words from his manager, it was hard to comprehend that this was the same pitcher who was so determined to shut out the Blue Jays in Game 5 of the 1993 Series, his manager in those days (Jim Fregosi) never even got the bullpen up while his aspiring ace was launching all 147 overpowering pitches. But Schilling was 26 then, and his legend was still being shaped.

"He was going to stay out there beginning to end that night," laughed Mike Timlin, Schilling's teammate now, a member of those '93 Blue Jays back then. "The Continental Congress couldn't have gotten him out of there."

Wait. The Continental Congress? Since when did they have any clout over postseason pitching changes?

"Well," Timlin quipped, "in Philadelphia, they might have had a little bit."

SCHILLING'S WORLD SERIES
STARTS FOR RED SOX
  2004 Game 2
vs. STL
2007 Game 2
vs. COL
IP 6 5 1/3
ER 0 1
K-BB 4-1 4-2
Result W, 6-2 W, 2-1
>>4-1, 2.06 ERA career in WS

When you throw 147 pitches on an indelible night in October, you're as likely to be compared to Gen. Patton as Bob Gibson. But what Schilling did in Game 2 of this World Series, Timlin said, actually "shows a lot more guts and a lot more grit."

Why? "Because he knows that he has to pitch now," Timlin said, "rather than blow guys away. Back then, he was a whole lot younger and a whole lot more durable. But now, [at 40] you just can't bounce back like you used to. And I ought to know. I'm right there with him."

Timlin, 41, has just about seen it all from this guy -- from Chapter One 14 years ago, to the 2004 soap opera, to this latest ride through October, in which Schilling is 3-0 in four starts. Asked if he'd like to sit down someday and watch Schilling's entire October highlight video, Timlin chuckled: "I guess so. But I've seen so many of them in person, I might have to help them edit it."

Well, when he sits himself down in that editing room some day, Game 2 of the 2007 World Series is going to have its own special place on the tape.

They can cut to the scene where Schilling walks off that mound -- having racked up fewer outs (16) than he had in any October victory of his life. But it was enough to bring 36,000 people to their feet for one last roar of salute, enough to inspire Schilling to wave his cap all the way from the infield grass to the dugout steps.

It was the thought that this might be his final start for the Red Sox that kick-started those cheers. But there was actually a much bigger story line in play.

This might have been this man's final start in October, too.

And as he reminded us one more time Thursday night, October is still Curt Schilling's kind of month.

Jayson Stark is a senior writer for ESPN.com. His new book, "The Stark Truth: The Most Overrated and Underrated Players in Baseball History," has been published by Triumph Books and is available in bookstores. Click here to order a copy.

Jayson Stark | email

Senior Writer, ESPN.com

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