Schilling shows what counts most is quality, not quantity, of pitches 146-pitch shutout saves bullpen, Phils

BASEBALL

October 24, 1993|By JIM HENNEMAN

TORONTO -- Wrapping up a World Series in a brown paper bag for the working man (second shift):

Without qualification, here's a vote for Curt Schilling as baseball's Man of the Year. Why Schilling?

It says here that Schilling did more to revolutionize baseball in Game 5 of the World Series than all the pitch-counters in the game's history. He's not the first, of course, but he certainly is the most recent to be allowed to prove the point. And he gets added points for doing so under the stress and strain of a win-or-else game in the World Series.

Less than 24 hours after the Phillies and Blue Jays combined for 32 hits and 29 runs, Schilling pitched what many would describe as a masterpiece. He beat the Blue Jays, 2-0, just the second time all year that the American League champions had been shut out (you know by now that Fernando Valenzuela authored the other).

It took Schilling 146 pitches to complete (a rarity these days) his job. It's a good thing he wasn't on a pitch count. If he had been, judging by events of the night before, the Phillies could've gone golfing a few days earlier.

After the seventh inning, Phillies manager Jim Fregosi said he asked pitching coach Johnny Podres how many pitches Schilling had thrown. Told the count had surpassed 130, Fregosi said: "Let me know when he hits 150 . . . or 160."

What Fregosi meant was: "If he runs out of gas, so do we." There would be no bullpen torchlight parade that night. The Phillies had a horse on the mound and they were going to ride him to the finish.

Which doesn't, or shouldn't, seem all that unusual. Baseball games have always been decided by the quality, not the quantity, of pitches thrown.

But somewhere along the line, and it hasn't been that long ago, baseball got caught up in a fixation that says more than 100 pitches is stretching the limit. Strangely -- and perhaps wrongly -- this "discovery" came about shortly after it was determined pitchers needed four days of rest instead of three. Thus was born the five-man starting rotation, the best description of which still belongs to ex-Orioles pitching coach George Bamberger.

"Show me a fifth starter and I'll show you a losing pitcher," said Bamberger. He said it as a statement of fact.

Almost 20 years ago, he gave that advice to protege Herm Starrette, after he was named the Atlanta Braves' pitching coach and directed to find a fifth starter. In effect, Bamberger told Starrette if he was going to spend time looking for a fifth starter he better save some to look for another job.

Today, every team has five starters. Look at the major-league rosters and see how many fifth starters had winning records in 1993. And, just for the fun of it, check and see how many No. 4 starters finished over .500.

Now, ask yourself this question: If pitchers are making fewer starts, why are they being restricted to fewer pitches? Something is missing from that equation.

Before you even think this is one of those "back in the good old days," theories, perish the thought. That isn't even an issue.

Argue about quality of teams because of expansion, if that's your thing, but don't waste your time comparing the capabilities of the modern-day athlete to those of previous eras. By any standard that can be measured there simply is no comparison.

Today's athlete is bigger, stronger, faster, and, yes, more intelligent, even if we don't always want to admit it. If you don't accept that, you don't believe the streetcar is outdated.

Back to the point of the week. In Schilling's game against the Blue Jays, he allowed five hits, walked three batters and had another reach base on an error. In the process his team made three double plays, meaning Schilling faced 33 batters -- a mere six over the minimum.

In the process, Schilling averaged roughly four pitches per hitter, 16 per inning and 50 per hour (and elapsed time of a game may be the most important factor, but that's a topic for another week).

Those numbers are hardly outlandish. And the most significant factor of all is this -- in his last start of the year, Schilling was highly effective for 146 pitches. And his manager was willing to go for an extra dozen if necessary.

Bravo Curt Schilling, and one Man of the Year vote. And kudos to you too, Jim Fregosi, for trusting the quality you saw with your eyes, rather than the quantity you heard with your ears.

Shortcomings

When neither Todd Stottlemyre nor Tommy Greene survived the third inning of that 29-runfest in Game 4, it was the earliest that both starters had departed a World Series game in 37 years.

In Game 1 of the Orioles' four-game sweep over the Dodgers in 1966, two durable pitchers lasted exactly the same amount as Stottlemyre and Greene. Dodgers right-hander Don Drysdale left after two innings in that game (as did Stottlemyre Wednesday night) and Orioles left-hander Dave McNally lasted only 2 1/3 innings (matching Greene).

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