Philadelphia -- The line on Curt Schilling has never changed.
Great arm. Needs to mature to become a successful major-league pitcher.
The Orioles were willing to wait, but then along came an opportunity to get Glenn Davis, a slugger they needed at the time, and Schilling was sent to the Houston Astros, bent on making a new start.
But that didn't last, either. Schilling is now with the Philadelphia Phillies, his third major-league station in 18 months.
"Everybody always talks about what a great arm I have," he said. "And I keep getting traded."
This time, the marriage may work. Schilling is prospering as a starter in the Phillies' rotation (6-4, 2.28 ERA) and apparently is destined to establish himself at age 25.
The Orioles were reluctant to part with Schilling, whom they acquired from the Boston Red Sox with Brady Anderson in the Mike Boddicker trade in July 1988. He was one of the young pitchers the club had stockpiled for the future.
"He was one we didn't want to put in that [Davis] trade," said assistant general manager Frank Robinson, then the Orioles manager. "[Steve] Finley was another. But to make the deal we had to include them.
"We thought Curt was going to mature as a pitcher and a person, and when he did, he was going to be much better in both areas."
The Orioles had seen flashes of that, especially in 1990 when the big right-hander pitched 20 consecutive scoreless innings at one point and did not allow a run in 20 of his first 23 appearances.
Houston also was teased by Schilling's talent when he began last season as the closer and converted five of his first six save opportunities.
But just before this year opened, Astros general manager Bill Wood had to make a decision. The club had elected to go with Joe Boever and Doug Jones to close games, and Schilling was out of options.
They knew if they tried to send Schilling to the Triple-A Tucson Toros again, they would lose him via a waiver claim. Hence, they dealt him for the Phillies' Jason Grimsley, a pitcher who also might profit from a change of venue.
"I can't say that I said I made a mistake," said Wood. "The early returns on the trade certainly favor Philadelphia, but those things take time to determine.
xTC "I wish Curt well. He always had a good arm, but we didn't have a choice. He had no options left and did not win a spot on our club. A change certainly could benefit him. It's the way these things work."
Schilling is 3-2 with a 2.37 ERA in seven starts for the Phillies, and 5-4 with a 2.55 ERA overall in 23 games. He won his first game as a starter May 19, beating the Astros.
"I'm as happy as I've ever been right now," said Schilling. "Obviously, I'm throwing the ball hard. My confidence is good and I've gotten an opportunity. I think I've done a pretty creditable job."
So does Phillies manager Jim Fregosi.
"I think everybody has always said he has a hell of an arm," said Fregosi. "And our pitching was kind of decimated, so it just kind of worked out."
Fregosi pointed out that only 28 percent of pitchers in the majors make it with their original clubs.
"Everyone expects so much of them at an early age," he said. "But it takes time."
Said Robinson: "It's not easy for anybody to step right in, but especially not for young pitchers. There is a lot of uncertainty and it takes an adjustment. But Curt has the pitches and the stuff to be a starter in the majors. He's just starting to mature."
Fastball, curve, slider and now a straight changeup, that is Schilling's repertoire. No trick pitches. Just man-to-man pitching.
Included in his credentials are a scoreless streak of 20 innings, longest by a Phillies pitcher, the first shutout and complete game of his career (over NL East leader Pittsburgh) and high league rankings in ERA and opposing batting average.
Schilling was not enamored with a recent seven-inning, three-run effort against the Chicago Cubs. He was not involved in the decision after the Phils rallied to win, 4-3.
He said all the right things -- about how his poor stuff almost cost the team the game, how the defense helped bail him out. It was a sign of maturity. Plus, he came back to shut out the Montreal Expos, 5-0, in his last start Tuesday night.
But Schilling can't help but reminisce about what might have been -- in the exhilaration of the first season at Oriole Park at Camden Yards.
"I don't think playing in Baltimore can ever be duplicated," he said. "It was so much fun to come to the park every day. The fans were with you, win or lose. I was crushed when I got traded from there."
Schilling still has strong ties. He will be married in Baltimore on Nov. 7 to Shonda Brewer. Gregg Olson and Ben McDonald are scheduled to be in the wedding party.
He is now close enough to visit on days off.
"I went into a funk last year and struggled. My confidence was gone," said Schilling. "But I think they [Astros] gave up on me a little prematurely.
"They wanted to go with a team they thought could win a pennant, but I don't think that's realistic this year."
Schilling now accepts whatever role is offered him and %o understands he reached the Phillies' rotation because of others' misfortunes.
"Everything happens for a reason. I'd like to make my home here, play here and settle here," he said. "I'm not complaining."
A look at National League pitchers who allowed the fewest runners per nine innings through yesterday's games. (Minimum 70 innings pitched):
1% Player.... .... Team.... Runners
Curt Schilling.... Phil. .. 9.1
Bob Tewksbury..... St.L. .. 9.3
Sid Fernandez..... N.Y. ... 9.4
Greg Maddux....... Chi. ... 9.4
Dennis Martinez... Mont. .. 9.8
Tom Glavine....... Atl. ... 9.8
Bill Swift........ S.F. ... 9.9
Doug Drabek....... Pitt. .. 9.9
Bruce Hurst....... S.D. ... 10.3
Zane Smith........ Pitt. .. 10.4