Schilling and Phillies show staying power

April 12, 1993|By Frank Dolson | Frank Dolson,Philadelphia Inquirer

PHILADELPHIA -- The first time Curt Schilling got himself in trouble yesterday, putting the potential tying runs on base with one out in the seventh inning, Phillies manager Jim Fregosi didn't even have anybody throwing in the bullpen.

Turned out, he knew something.

Schilling, a former Oriole who came to the National League in the Glenn Davis trade, got Sammy Sosa waving at a 2-2 pitch that darted low and away. Then he struck out Rick Wilkins on three pitches, the last of them a low breaking ball that had the Cubs catcher firing down his bat and helmet in disgust after he whiffed.

In the ninth inning, though, with the lead boosted to 3-0 courtesy of a towering Darren Daulton homer, Mitch Williams and Larry hTC Andersen were tuning up when back-to-back hits by Mark Grace and Derrick May brought the tying run to the plate with one out.

Candy Maldonado, inserted in the Cubs lineup when manager Jim Lefebvre decided that Willie Wilson could use a day off, was the batter. His failure to catch Daulton's sky-high fly to left had gift-wrapped two Phillies runs in the first. At the plate he was 0-for-10 with seven strikeouts in the young season.

Still, he represented a serious threat. Maldonado, after all, hit 20 home runs for the World Series champion Blue Jays a year ago.

Schilling quickly got ahead, 1-2. A breaking ball hit the dirt, another stayed low. The count was full.

For Maldonado, the next pitch was a last chance to make up for past sins. For Schilling, it was the pitch of the game.

"I wanted to finish," the right-hander said. "I knew when the second guy got on that I was a batter away from not finishing the ballgame."

The way baseball is played today, finishing games is fast becoming a lost art. Don't tell that to Schilling, though.

"I believe if I go out there I want nine innings," he said. "I don't think you should go out there thinking anything else."

Daulton called for a fastball. It sailed high, out of the strike zone. But Maldonado, unable to check his swing, struck out for the eighth time in 11 official at-bats.

"It's not easy when nothing goes right," sighed the Cubs outfielder, experiencing what he called "the worst start of my career."

For the Phillies, though, things couldn't be going much better. Schilling needed one more out -- and he got it, closing the game with a flourish by striking out Sosa. Talk about rising to the occasion.

Schilling, however, preferred to talk about his catcher.

"I can't say enough about Darren today," he said. "I got a little overthrowing, a little anxious, in the ninth inning. Darren calmed me down. Same thing in the seventh."

They work beautifully together, this hard-throwing pitcher and his hard-hitting, hard-nosed catcher.

"I feel good giving the game to him ... letting him call the game," Schilling said. "The air of confidence he has when I pitch does nothing but help me."

That air of confidence is becoming contagious around the Vet these days. All spring folks were saying the Phillies would be tough "if" they got pitching. Now the realization is starting to sink in: They have pitching. Six games don't a season make, but the early returns are startling for a team that had the highest earned run average in the league a year ago.

In their five victories, the Phillies' starters have looked like like the Atlanta Braves of the National League East, putting together a combined ERA of 1.54. Terry Mulholland, Schilling and Danny Jackson have worked a total of 41 innings in those five games, striking out 27, walking five, and allowing only 23 hits.

OK, it isn't quite on a par with what the Atlanta bunch is doing, but it's close enough. The '93 Phillies have a chance to win even when their normally high-powered offense has trouble producing runs.

"Pitching is keeping us in the game," Daulton said.

Schilling, the guy Lee Thomas got in an even swap for Jason Grimsley last year in what may go down as the steal of the decade, keeps getting better -- quite an achievement for a pitcher with two stress fractures in his right leg.

Actually, it's time to forget those stress fractures. Schilling has.

"I don't really like to talk about it," he said, "because the less I talk about it, the more I forget."

It's kept him off the golf course, "which is a bummer," Schilling said, but the Phillies pay him to get victories, not birdies.

The thing about Schilling that makes him so special is his ability to find a little extra when it's needed.

"I think that's something I learned from Darren and from Mo," he said, referring to Mulholland.

Schilling came up through the minors as a strikeout pitcher. But his approach is different now.

"The quicker I get 'em out, the sooner I get back to the dugout, the fewer pitches I throw in the ballgame," Schilling said. "Darren and I try and go for a strikeout only when we really, really need it."

When they really, really needed strikeouts yesterday, they got them.

Sure, Schilling needed a little help from Maldonado on that ninth-inning 3-2 pitch that might have loaded the bases. But when you pitch as well as Schilling did, you deserve a break.

"I was overthrowing the ball that whole at-bat," he said. "I got lucky he went up for it. But when you're around the plate, like Darren and I were all day, and you get a guy who's a big swinger and runners in scoring position, he's going to swing at pitches he normally wouldn't swing at."

In Houston, Schilling may have been more thrower than pitcher. Now he's a pitcher.

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