Schilling is one footing the bill for Red Sox's grand survival

October 20, 2004|By Laura Vecsey

NEW YORK - It says in Curt Schilling's contract that he gets a $2 million bonus if the Red Sox win the World Series.

He ought to get twice that much if the Red Sox make it there. Maybe three times.

What's the value of a man who takes a flapping tendon in his ankle and tells the team doctors to stitch his skin down to keep the tendon in place, just so he can push off the rubber and pitch?

"I don't know that pain was the thing," Schilling said later, when the Red Sox's 4-2 win was secure - and all of Gotham was sent into red alert insecurity.

"Seven years ago I became a Christian and tonight, God did something for me. I knew I wasn't going to be able to do this alone. I just can't explain to you what it felt like to be out there tonight."

The Yankees had a three-game lead in this American League Championship Series. Now Game 7 is tonight at Yankee Stadium.

Who's got the stomach for this rematch, this replay, this deja vu all over again? The Yankees better hope they do.

"That team over there responded well. Now we'll find out about our team [tonight] and how we respond to do-or-die," said Derek Jeter.

Indeed, the Red Sox, with Schilling as their stopper, ace and inspiration, have already proved they're up for the task. Three straight games of elimination baseball and never did they flinch, including once when they were down to their final three outs.

They were clearly inspired by their reassuring mantra through those long nights of extra-inning, comeback wins: Curt Schilling will pitch in Game 6.

Well, pitch he did. Ninety-nine of them. Seven full innings. That's what Schilling was good for last night. Boy, how good.

Jeter said Schilling was no different from Game 1, when his ailing ankle forced him out after three innings. Same stuff. Same velocity. No big deal. The Yankees just didn't string together hits.

Well, maybe.

What Jeter couldn't afford to acknowledge is the specter of a Red Sox team enveloped by far more positive karma than they've ever known at this late date in the playoffs.

In 1999, the Red Sox had blown calls go against them, killing rallies and their confidence in a sudden ALCS exit against the Yankees.

In 2003, the Cowboy Up crew wanted to believe they were the team of destiny, but the world knows how it all fell apart in Game 7. Grady Little and Pedro Martinez and Aaron Boone - the holy trio of the curse reincarnate.

Now the Red Sox are exactly where they wanted to be, where they need to be. To beat the Yankees, to get to the World Series, it had to come down to something as improbable as this, something as divinely inspired and medically sutured.

That it was Schilling's bum ankle that sent the Sox into a three-game tailspin only made his comeback win more important. Is it a sign? Hard not to see it that way.

Last night, Schilling had to scrap the high-top sneaker that was built to cradle his painful ankle. After Red Sox team doctors sewed his tendon down to his skin, holding the tendon in place, the high shoe put too much pressure on his sutures.

Instead, Schilling went to the mound at Yankee Stadium in his regular cleats. They were cut low enough for the splotch of red blood on his white sanitary sock to show.

"I don't think people have any idea what Curt did to be able to pitch tonight," Red Sox manager Terry Francona said.

"He and the medical staff got together and they actually sutured that area with stitches. You can talk all you want about this area, but it's his heart that is so huge," Francona said.

"I guarantee you he didn't feel that good, but he pitched his [rear end] off."

Blood and guts and an ad-hoc medical solution that inflicted as much pain as it eliminated. It's just about everything you could ask of your 37-year-old imported ace, except maybe for a solid forkball and 94-mph fastballs that kept the bats of the Yankees' All-Star lineup flailing.

Schilling came into this ALCS telling the world he wanted to hear one thing: the sound of silence in Yankee Stadium. He wanted to know the sweet, quiet music of 55,000 with nothing left to cheer for.

He got his wish, and a special place in the already rich annals of Red Sox-Yankees lore.

"We just did something tonight that's never been done before. I am so freakin' proud to be part of this team," Schilling said.

Only after Schilling was relieved to begin the eighth did Yankee Stadium grow raucous, angry, agitated. Miguel Cairo doubled and Derek Jeter brought him home on a single. But when Alex Rodriguez pretended he was playing football and tried to strip the baseball out of the glove of Red Sox pitcher Bronson Arroyo, fans started throwing things onto the field, prompting the New York police to be called in.

Rodriguez was called out for interfering, Jeter sent back to first. The inning would end with Schilling's masterpiece safe. His win was salvaged. So was the never-ending series between two rivals that can't quite ever get enough.

"If you asked in spring training that this would come down to a Game 7, most people would have said yes," Jeter said.

But ask most people if it would come down to a Game 7 after the Yankees had a 3-0 lead?

"Most people wouldn't say that," Jeter said.

We take it that this is what Curt Schilling had in mind when he came to Boston. We take it this was the effect Schilling intended to have on the New York Yankees, not to mention on 86 years of Red Sox futility.

Never before has a baseball team come back from a 3-0 abyss to force a Game 7 of a playoff series. Now the Red Sox have earned that distinction.

What comes next is not for the weak of heart, stomach, spirit. Ankles are another matter.

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