10/04/2004 9:23 PM ET
This is Schilling's time of year
Game 1 starter loves the pressure the playoffs bring
By Ian Browne / MLB.com
|Since Aug. 14, Curt Schilling is 8-0 with a 2.84 ERA over nine starts. (Elise Amendola/AP)
ANAHEIM -- Back on that day after Thanksgiving, when Curt Schilling gave Red Sox fans everywhere a post-holiday gift of all gifts, he wasn't thinking about the 21 wins he would go on to earn this season. Nor was he thinking about the solid numbers he put up all across the board, placing him among the league leaders in nearly every meaningful category.
What was squarely on his mind when he agreed to waive that no-trade clause and shake hands with a very persuasive Theo Epstein that November day was what will occur Tuesday afternoon at Angel Stadium.
That is when Schilling will take the ball in Game 1 of the Division Series against the Angels, holding the hopes of the New England sporting public on his broad shoulders.
This is his time of year. The pressure is at its zenith. And this is why Schilling came to the Red Sox. The weight that comes with trying to win a world championship for a team that hasn't been able to do so since 1918? Schilling loves it.
"When this all happened last winter, it all happened, I think, or the reasons behind it, were all for what starts tomorrow," said Schilling. "These guys were in Game 7 [in 2003], five outs away from the World Series. So I think anything short of being in the World Series this year means that we have fallen short of where we should go. I understand that if I don't go out and do the things that I have done in the past in October, then the season will be a wash in a lot of people's minds, as far as my contributions here."
As for Octobers past, Schilling is 5-1 with a 1.66 ERA over 11 postseason starts. Along with those gaudy numbers, he earned a championship ring with the Diamondbacks in 2001, teaming with Randy Johnson on a magical run that holds a special place in the annals of baseball history.
Unlike most of his teammates, he knows what it's like to be the last team standing. But he doesn't quite know what that euphoria is like in the baseball-crazed city that is Boston. Nobody does. Schilling wants to help everyone find out.
He enters these playoffs on a roll. Schilling wasn't quite Johan Santana down the stretch, but he was close enough. Since Aug. 14, Schilling is 8-0 with a 2.84 ERA over nine starts.
Most pitchers in Schilling's position would want to do everything they can to maintain such a roll. Not Schilling. He'll be upset with himself if he can't reach back for a little more, beginning Tuesday against a very tough Anaheim lineup.
"I think, starting [Tuesday], you have to be better than you were. I have always felt like that," said Schilling. "I have always felt like I needed to be better than I was over the previous six months."
Against the Angels this season, Schilling was sharp, going 2-0 in his two starts. But they fully gained his respect entering this series, and for reasons well beyond the great Vladimir Guerrero.
"Every guy in the lineup can do something to put a runner in scoring position or to drive a runner in," Schilling said. "There are some drastically different hitters in this lineup as far as approaches and selection and location and stuff like that."
By game time Tuesday, Schilling will have studied every one of those Angels hitters, from their scouting reports to video of their good and bad at-bats. He is a preparation freak, and proud of it.
"I get paid an extraordinarily large sum of money to work about 40-some times a year, and I just feel like if I don't put every ounce of my being in that game that fifth day, I am cheating somebody," said Schilling.
Red Sox manager Terry Francona remembers the days when Schilling had high-voltage intensity for games that meant nothing beyond pride. They were together in Philadelphia, Schilling the one bright light in a vastly overmatched rotation, and Francona, the manager of a team in rebuilding mode.
"The description of big game has probably changed [for Schilling]," said Francona. "My description of big game, when we were in Philadelphia, was playing the Yankees, because it was a sell-out and we were already 30 games out. Just the level rose because it was a bigger game for us. My point is, the higher the stakes, the bigger the stage, I think the more excited he gets. I think he enjoys the pressure."
The Angels counter with a pretty good pitcher of their own in left-hander Jarrod Washburn.
But the Red Sox are always confident when it's Schilling's turn to take the ball. He hasn't provided any evidence for them not to be.
"He's Curt Schilling," said Red Sox center fielder Johnny Damon. "We went after him because he was one of the best pitchers around. We got him. He's been awesome all year."
And now, Schilling's favorite time of year is ready to begin.
Ian Browne is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.