Schilling is looking, feeling sorry Slumping pitcher's outlook has Phillies concerned

July 12, 1993|By Frank Dolson | Frank Dolson,Knight-Ridder News Service

PHILADELPHIA -- Curt Schilling can pitch -- and win -- in the big leagues. He proved it last year when he won 14 games, posted an earned run average of 2.35 and held opponents to a collective .201 batting average.

He proved it again this year when he completed six of his first 13 starts for the Philadelphia Phillies and won eight of his first nine decisions.

He exuded confidence then. He felt as if he could beat anybody any day.

"Last year I went out and I beat people and I beat 'em bad, and early this year I did the same thing," he said yesterday after the San Francisco Giants became the fifth straight National League team to go out and beat him the way he had grown accustomed to beating everybody else.

Maybe that was the trouble. He was on such a roll, winning so many games, overpowering so many hitters that it seemed easy to him. He thought it would go on that way forever.

"When things are going well and you're riding on a high note, this game has a tendency to jump at you," Phillies manager Jim Fregosi said after his erstwhile right-handed ace absorbed yet another demoralizing beating.

"You have to go through the low ebbs and you have to kick yourself in the butt and get going."

There were brief flashes of the old, overpowering Curt Schilling yesterday. Very brief, however.

The Giants, leading 3-1 en route to a 10-2 victory, put runners on first and third with one out and their big guns coming to the plate in the fourth.

Will Clark was first.

"I knew I had to have a strikeout or a popup right there," the husky right-hander said, "and I went after it."

He got it, too, fanning Clark on a 2-2 pitch. Now Barry Bonds loomed at the plate.

"A great hitter," Schilling said, "but he doesn't bother me. . . . I just didn't want to give him a good pitch to hit, so we went fastball away. It wasn't a good pitch. It was up. He smoked it.

"Everybody says, 'Give the hitters credit.' Bull. You don't give the hitters credit when you make bad pitches."

Bonds' shot just missed clearing the fence in left-center. Two runs scored on the double. A third followed on a single by Dave Martinez.

The Giants were on their way to a third lopsided victory in this four-game match of division leaders. Schilling was on his way to the clubhouse, a shaken, beaten man, searching for answers.

"To me, basically it looks like he's feeling sorry for himself," said Fregosi, "and in this game you can't do that. You've got to battle through it. It's a tough thing to go through. He thought he'd

never struggle again. He was riding high."

And now he's come crashing down, plummeting from practically unbeatable ace to a guy who's being treated like a batting-practice pitcher: 31 runs, 27 of them earned, and 46 hits in 20 2/3 innings over his last five starts.

Little wonder Curt Schilling has a whipped-dog look about him these days. But it's the look, more than the numbers, that concerns Fregosi and general manager Lee Thomas.

"I think [the problem] is more upstairs with him than it is his arm," Thomas said after the Giants, mixing bloopers and bleeders and laser shots, totaled 11 hits against Schilling in 3 2/3 innings.

"I'm so tired of seeing him put his head in a towel like the world's coming to an end. . . . Hey, it doesn't come easy. He's finding that out very quickly."

In the long run, the lesson may pay dividends for Schilling. But at the moment this is a troubled pitcher who can't look beyond his next start, and can't forget his last five.

He was sitting at his locker yesterday when the blowout ended, waiting for the media and another round of the same, old, painful questions. Win or lose, hot or cold, Schilling doesn't run and hide.

John Kruk stopped by to offer a few friendly words and a pat on the back. A remarkable man, Kruk. With his team eight runs down on this scorching-hot day, two out and nobody on in the seventh inning, he beat out a slow bouncer wide of first with a headfirst dive, then apologized to Schilling after the game for failing to come up with a fourth-inning smash that whizzed past him into right field.

"These guys are playing their hearts out every day for us," said Schilling, a former Oriole. "I got to battle, just like everybody else on this club, and get out of this. Not for me, but for us."

The more he talked, the more you sensed Fregosi and Thomas were right: Schilling was feeling sorry for himself. He had to snap out of it, start feeling and thinking and talking like the confident, dominant pitcher he was.

"I'm at a loss for words," the pitcher was saying, standing in front of the locker, his two hands gripping the metal frame above his head. "It has gone beyond anything I thought I could get into."

He was still throwing the ball hard. It's just that it wasn't going where he wanted it to go in critical situations.

"I get two strikes and I'm leaving the ball over the middle of the plate," he said. "I mean, it's not the '27 Yankees across the field. They [the Giants] are a good ballclub, but I made them look a lot better than they are.

"I'm at wit's end now. . . . I know how to pitch and get certain people out, and I'm not making the pitches and they're whacking the ball all over the yard against me."

For Curt Schilling, for this entire baseball team, the All-Star break couldn't come at a better time.

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