For poetic justice's sake, paging the gimpy pitcher

October 19, 2004|By Laura Vecsey

BOSTON - The man in the boot is about to take the mound for the Red Sox.

The man in the boot is about to become the most bizarre twist in a long and incredibly twisted tale of the Red Sox's quest to beat the New York Yankees.

No chance, right?

Fuggetaboutit, right?

Deny if you must, but deny at your own risk the plausibility that this implausible scenario is finally the thing that breaks the 86-year logjam for the cursed Red Sox.

Take your No Doz. Prepare. Take with a grain of salt what Yankees manager Joe Torre says when he says things are cool.

"If they had beat us up, you know, two lopsided games in a row, I would say that's one thing. But these games, back and forth, it was a matter of a pitch, a hit, a run. Momentum is on their side, but I'm not sure it affected us to where we don't feel good about ourselves," Torre said.

OK, so there's nothing about the Yankees that exudes a shred of concern that they're now in the position they're in.

That's good for the Yankees, who must still be riding the high they got during their three-game barrage of the Red Sox at the start of this American League Championship Series.

A 3-0 lead in the playoffs has never been erased. And, of course, the Yankees have owned the Red Sox since time immemorial - or at least since 1918.

No one needs to remind anyone about that particularly painful date, least of all the Yankees. When they go back to the Bronx - today, in fact - their fans will chant that familiar date at the Red Sox.

It will be meant as a form of a taunt. Eighty-six years of misery is a lot of misery.

But, after what happened last night, there is this strange bit of business that awaits the Yankees. It is the man in the boot. His name is Curt Schilling, and he's the pitcher whose shredded ankle tendon sheath is the reason this series got so far away from the Red Sox in the first place.

That is, that's the reason this series got so far away from the Red Sox before the Red Sox found a way to crawl back to where they started: in the Bronx, with Schilling on the mound.

Only this time, Schilling portends to be a more formidable pitcher, closer to the 21-game winner whose sole purpose for being in Boston was to help them beat the Yankees.

It seemed impossible these past three days that the Red Sox kept invoking Schilling's name as a candidate for a start in Game 6. It seemed implausible that the Red Sox could scrap their way back into the position to make such mischief.

They were within three outs of elimination in Game 4, for goodness sakes!

They beat Mariano Rivera in the ninth inning Sunday and then they beat Rivera again last night, when the Robo-Closer blew his second consecutive save.

The Yankees aren't concerned. This has not affected the way they feel about themselves. Good. They'll need it.

Rivera, who suffered a terrible personal loss with the death of his wife's cousin and nephew at his Panama mansion last week, has now been the bridge to defeat.

Now it's the Red Sox whose ailing, aging, dyspeptic and knuckleballing pitching staff has patched together two consecutive games that led the way for slugger David Ortiz to bang out two consecutive wins.

In the cosmic circles in which so much of the Red Sox karma and lore reside, we bring you this:

The Boston pitcher who gave up the heartbreaking home run to the Yankees in Game 7 of the 2003 American League Championship Series, Tim Wakefield, was in the game last night when the Red Sox came back to beat the Yankees, 5-4, in the 14th.

"Last year was last year," Wakefield said.

The knuckleballer meant it, and his relief appearances in both of the Red Sox comebacks in Games 4 and 5 are probably enough now to wipe out the memory chip of everyone else in Red Sox Nation who can't let go of the horrific past.

Maybe they should.

Instead of obsessing about Babe Ruth, the Curse, Johnny Pesky's alleged double clutch or Bill Buckner's wickets or Grady Little's dependence on Pedro Martinez, the Red Sox now have the most amazing visual image to fixate on.

He is the man in the boot.

Schilling will take the mound in Game 6, in Yankee Stadium.

"Curt Schilling's pitch count might be 180," manager Terry Francona said last night after the game.

From the abyss, the Sox are alive and so is Schilling.

"I'm ready to go," Schilling said.

"I think we just felt like we were going to exhaust all opportunities and scenarios we could find to make this work if it could," he said.

"It has been electric [the past few nights]. This whole series has been electric. It's amazing. I've never seen anything like it," he said.

"I'm just so proud to be part of this team. This is like a 15-round fight between two heavyweights," Schilling said.

"This [start] is a chance to get us one step closer to World Series. A chance to get us closer to Game 1, and thank my teammates for picking me up the last few days," he said.

Maybe now the tale of this 86-year Red Sox quest twists into something beyond the imagination of even the most tortured of souls in Red Sox Nation.

Can they really do this?

Can they really come all the way back, as it has never been done before when a team's been down 3-0 in the ALCS and the way the Yankees have owned the Red Sox?

If they do, it will continue with Schilling. He'll have that weakened, painful ankle feeling a little less pain because it will be tucked inside the Reebok sneaker all of the world now knows was the most important technological development in this history of shoe manufacturing.

The man in the boot is coming to save Red Sox Nation.

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