When Schilling got O's wings clipped

KEN ROSENTHAL

October 15, 1993|By KEN ROSENTHAL

PHILADELPHIA -- On this, the eve of Curt Schilling's starting Game 1 of the World Series in Toronto, let us reflect on the last time the former Oriole pitched at SkyDome.

The three-run homer by Kelly Gruber. The blown save for Pete Harnisch. The profanity-laced tongue-lashing Schilling received from veteran reliever Joe Price.

The date was Sept. 15, 1990. Schilling was a 23-year-old kid without a clue. And Price told him so, right in the middle of the Orioles clubhouse.

"I was looking for him. I was hot. I was seeking him out," says Price, now 36 and working for a bottled-water company in Southern California.

Price was fed up with Schilling's immaturity, an immaturity the playoff MVP didn't overcome until after getting traded a third time, from Houston to Philadelphia in April 1992.

For those who remember him from the Orioles, it's almost difficult to believe that three years later, the same guy has turned into Mr. October for the National League champion Phillies.

"Curt was a typical young kid with a great amount of ability," Price recalls. "I don't think he understood the importance of the moment. There's no doubt he does now."

Why did Price erupt? Two reasons. Schilling had shown up late at the ballpark. And, as he left the bullpen to face Gruber, he asked, "How do I work this guy?"

It was an astonishing question. Gruber had driven in 13 runs his previous six games. He was on his way to a 118-RBI season. And he had been destroying the Orioles all year.

The question of how to pitch him probably had surfaced in a bullpen discussion or two. But back then, Schilling was too busy fantasizing about car stereos to pay much attention.

At the time, the Blue Jays were in their usual pennant race. The Orioles were trying to be spoilers. And Harnisch had taken a 3-1 lead into the ninth inning.

As Schilling recalls, Gregg Olson wasn't available that day, and after the Blue Jays opened the ninth with back-to-back singles, he had to get into the game quickly.

Price, a left-hander, was warming up beside him, preparing to face the hitter after Gruber, Fred McGriff.

Harnisch, Schilling, McGriff.

A who's who of broken dreams. . .

Anyway, when Schilling asked his famous question, Price -- like everyone else in the Orioles' bullpen -- was too stunned to answer.

"No one said anything," Schilling recalls, his memory of the day still fresh. "They said, 'Just follow BoMel' " -- former Orioles catcher Bob Melvin.

Schilling followed BoMel all right, and quickly fell behind 2-0. Desperate to throw a strike, he grooved a fastball. Gruber crushed it for the game-winning homer.

The loss was the second of four straight ninth-inning defeats to Toronto -- a pattern that continues to this day. Afterward, Price began his hunt, looking everywhere for Schilling.

Their confrontation took place after Schilling emerged from the shower. Price didn't seek out a private room for a chat. He screamed at Schilling in full view of the entire team.

"It was one of those situations where the older guy has to make a point -- this is what it's all about, this is what you play for," Price recalls.

"My first comment was that he better get his [expletive deleted] rest that night -- we had a game the next day. He was still kind of stunned by the home run. He looked at me kind of confused.

"He said, 'What do you mean by that?' I told him exactly what I meant, in no uncertain terms."

Harnisch was 10-11 then, and Price pointed out that Schilling cost him a chance to go .500 -- in effect, cost him money.

It was a compelling argument.

Schilling said nothing.

"I was mad that he yelled at me in front of some of the guys in the clubhouse, but he was right," Schilling says now. "I wasn't prepared to do the job."

Was it a turning point for him?

"As a pitcher, no, but as a player, it was one of those steps you have to take to get here," he says. "Somebody's got to teach it to you."

The Orioles included Schilling in the Glenn Davis trade partly because they thought he'd never learn.

Price, though, says he never doubted Schilling would succeed.

"He had a very good run as a setup man up to that point," Price recalls. "There was no doubt he had ability. It was a matter of just growing up, maturing.

"From the looks of things, he certainly has."

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