10/21/07 1:58 AM ET
Schilling delivers another fall classic
In possible Sox finale, veteran improves to 10-2 in playoffs
By Alex McPhillips / MLB.com
Sensing the delayed reaction of a suddenly rambunctious Red Sox crowd, he waved his cap again at the top of the dugout steps, this time in broader, more forceful strokes. More than 37,000 fans responded with louder applause, until suddenly everyone recognized what they were witnessing: the very end of another fall classic, a worthy addendum to Schilling's already famous postseason resume in perhaps his last start for the home team.
Schilling was similarly reflective after allowing two runs on six hits in seven innings, improving to 4-0 in playoff elimination games (his ERA in those situations ticked up, from 1.11 to 1.37) and 10-2 overall in the postseason.
"God gave me a chance to play professional baseball, which is a gift beyond anything you'd ever dream of," Schilling said. "But to play in this stadium in front of these people, you know, I would argue that you'll never hear home-field advantaged being pooh-poohed again in this city."
"The crowd tonight, from the first inning on, I thought, had an incredible ... effect on me," he added. "I don't know how they affected other people, but it's a privilege to be able to play here and experience this."
A younger and more dominant Schilling participated in previous such October displays. Not until this year did he have a chance to build on the legacy of Oct. 19, 2004, when his ankle sutures bled while he conquered the Yankees in Game 6 of the American League Championship Series. He had one start -- a win -- in the 2004 World Series, but didn't pitched in the postseason again until he shut out the Angels for seven innings in the AL Division Series clincher.
Now, Schilling is 10-2 in his playoff career, with a 2.25 ERA in 128 innings. Three years and one day after the Bloody Sock game, he is a different, but still effective, pitcher.
"He really, really pitched like the guy we need," manager Terry Francona said. "I don't know if he had his best fastball tonight, but he located it very well and used his offspeed [pitches] really effectively."
"I don't even think he had his best stuff," said Mike Lowell, "and still he was able to grind it out. You don't see too many 1-0, 2-0 counts out of him. He made big pitches."
It wasn't always easy. The Red Sox's bats worked a long first inning into a 4-0 advantage. Cleveland crept close, scoring one on Victor Martinez's solo homer in the second and opening the third with a pair of hits. Schilling didn't panic.
"I mean, that inning was pretty much the microcosm of the season," Schilling said. "All the lessons that [pitching coach John Farrell] has been working and drilling into my head, and all the things we've worked on, kind of came into play with the sequence of five hitters."
"I got ahead," he said, "left some splits up early in the inning, and then, really, the one thing he pounded into my head is focus on each pitch; execute pitch to pitch."
On 11 pitches, Schilling sat down the Indians' Nos. 1-3 hitters. The Red Sox extended their lead to 10-1 during the bottom of the inning against Indians starter Fausto Carmona. Going by the book, Schilling coolly shut down each attempt at a comeback.
"It's key to still throw strike one," catcher Jason Varitek said. "When you've been sitting around for a long time, it's not the easiest thing to do. Then as the innings got quicker, he got sharper."
"He's a guy that, when he has a game plan, he's going to come as close as anyone to executing it," Lowell said. "And he did it."
Curt in the clutch
Curt Schilling has yet to lose a game with his team on the verge of elimination. The right-hander is 4-0 with a 1.38 ERA.
1993 World Series
2001 World Series
The Red Sox benefited from handing one of the Majors' best control artists a large lead. In his last three potential elimination starts, Schilling has not allowed one walk.
But, Lowell said, protecting a nine-run lead is never as simple as throwing strikes.
"It's not easy to pitch with a lead?" Lowell said. "Some people think it's that easy. You're kind of torn in between just throwing fastballs to get guys out, and maintain[ing] your plan. And I think he did a great job."
Schilling is a free agent after this season. It is possible, given the circumstances of Sunday's Game 7, that his seventh inning on Saturday night was his last for the Red Sox. Both sides of Schilling's seventh-inning ovation recognized the added gravity of the situation.
"How incredibly blessed I am," Schilling said. "I mean, those are the moments you don't ever forget."
Alex McPhillips is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.