Schilling, Kruk take turn for the better Reversal fortifies Phillies' pennant run

September 22, 1993|By Paul Hagen | Paul Hagen,Knight-Ridder News Service

PHILADELPHIA -- The first turnabout occurred during the All-Star break. Philadelphia Phillies right-hander Curt Schilling had lost his past three starts, being knocked out, respectively, in the third, sixth and fifth innings.

As he drove across the Walt Whitman Bridge after the last game, while he toured area golf courses during the hiatus, he resolved that the second half would be different. Much different. Heck, he might not lose another game all year. You never know.

The second might have happened a few minutes after 4 Monday, on the field at Veterans Stadium, a crisp autumnal afternoon. John Kruk, with 13 hits in his last 77 at-bats, a lowly .169 average, was taking early batting practice.

Suddenly, hitting coach Denis Menke, who had been baffled by Kruk's extended slump, noticed that the bat was starting to slice through the hitting zone and the ball was jumping again. Menke mentioned it.

"Do you know what I did?" Kruk asked.

"No, what?"

"I changed my grip."

"Unbelievable."

Schilling overwhelmed the Florida Marlins with his seventh complete game of the season Monday night at the Vet. He allowed seven hits and struck out a career-high 11. He's now 15-6.

More impressive, in 13 starts since the break, he's won seven and lost none. Zip. Zero. Nil.

Kruk had two singles and his 14th home run of the season and scored three times as the Phillies jumped all over the Marlins, 7-1.

After last night's 5-3 win over Florida, the Phillies led the second-place Expos, idle Monday night before confronting the Atlanta Braves last night at Olympic Stadium, by five games with 11 to play.

In the larger focus, though, the continuing doggedness of Schilling and the possible reawakening of Kruk are twin pillars that this team must hang its hopes on as it gazes toward the rest of the regular season and, then, beyond the horizon.

"When Curt Schilling takes the ball, we look forward to having him out there," catcher Darren Daulton said. "And for Jake [Kruk] to do what he did, that's a very big plus. We need him right now because he's a big part of our offense."

It was Daulton, of course, who sharply criticized both Schilling and Tommy Greene (without fingering either by name) early in July. They have been the Phillies' two best pitchers in the second half, especially since Terry Mulholland has been sidelined indefinitely with a strained hip flexor.

There was a sour undercurrent in June and early July that manager Jim Fregosi, by allowing his starters to complete 17 of their first 60 games, had blown the staff out physically.

There is impressive evidence now to suggest that the problem was more from the neck up.

"[Schilling] is basically doing what he did last year and the first couple months of this season," Daulton said. "I think what he went through humbled him a little bit. I think he thought the rest of his career he was going to be mowing people down.

"But there's an awful lot of talent at this level. It's not that easy. There's a difference between pitching to people's weaknesses and just pitching away from the bat."

Schilling recalled a conversation with pitching coach Johnny Podres before he drove off for his All-Star break.

"He told me to be a man about this and beat this thing," Schilling said. "And that's what I decided to do. This stretch of games has been a blast. A lot of it is mental, and anybody who's been around this team knows there's nothing we think we can't do. I said I didn't feel like I was going to lose a ballgame, although, of course, I knew that there might be games when it was beyond my control.

"But this is great. Everything is big right now, everything is magnified tenfold. This is what I've always wanted, to pitch in a pennant race. To be known as a winner."

Schilling remembers being in the Orioles' bullpen during the final days of the 1989 pennant race, knowing there was no way he would get in the game, fascinated anyway.

Kruk, among a handful of current big-leaguers who have played more than 1,000 games without appearing in the postseason, also was relieved at the possibility that he had solved his batting conundrum just in time.

"For some strange reason, I was holding the bat way out at the end of my fingers," he said. "Then, in extra batting practice, I started holding it more in the back of my hands. Is that the answer? I don't know, but I have a chance now. The other way, I don't think I had any chance.

"When you go into a slump, you want to try to relax. Instead, what you usually try to do is hit a three-run homer with nobody on base."

The Phillies scored their first two runs on Jim Eisenreich's two-out single with the bases loaded in the first inning.

"He's had the knack for getting big two-out hits all year," Fregosi said.

They broke the game open with four runs in the second inning to take a 6-0 lead.

Kevin Stocker led off with an infield single and was bunted to second by Schilling. Marlins starter Charlie Hough, the ancient knuckleballer, then walked Lenny Dykstra.

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