Vintage Schilling Leaves Boston Savoring a Sweep
Monday, October 8, 2007
ANAHEIM, Calif., Oct. 7 -- The 100th pitch left his right hand and headed toward the man who represented the tying run, and it did precisely what Curt Schilling asked it to do, as so many of the previous 99 had. It bit down, toward the dirt, and the ninth-place hitter in the Los Angeles Angels' overmatched lineup, catcher Mike Napoli, couldn't resist. He swung. He missed. And Schilling hopped off the mound, pumping his right fist once, then pumping both before he fairly floated to the dugout.
That is what amounted to drama for Schilling on a cloudless Sunday afternoon, one in which he beat the Angels, 9-1, and propelled the Boston Red Sox to a dominant three-game sweep in their American League Division Series. The fist pumps came on Schilling's final pitch, when this blowout was still a ballgame. Combine that moment with the line in the box score -- seven innings, six hits, no runs, one walk, four strikeouts -- and it would seem as if Schilling is the same pitcher he was in those postseasons from the past, say 1993, 2001, '02 or '04.
Yet Schilling can no longer summon those fastballs that make the radar gun jump. It is now, as Boston General Manager Theo Epstein said in a soaked Red Sox clubhouse, "a location pitch," and the whole approach is so much more complicated. The ninth-place hitter in a 2-0, postseason game with the tying run on third? At one point, Schilling might have dialed it up to 97 or 98, and his teammates could have taken the pitch off. Now, it's a breaking ball in the dirt, then willing a 40-year-old body back to the dugout.
"How you do it," Schilling said, "is not really relevant anymore for me."
It is worth, however, going over how Schilling and his teammates did this to Los Angeles. They got back-to-back homers in the fourth inning of a previously scoreless game from David Ortiz and Manny Ramirez, the fearsome duo that appears to be warming to another October. They got Schilling's gem, the kind of outing that reestablished him as one of the best postseason pitchers of his generation. And they broke open a tight game with a seven-run eighth that made a decent start from right-hander Jered Weaver an afterthought.
"This is what it's all about -- postseason," said the reclusive Ramirez, tucked under a threshold in the visitors clubhouse at Angel Stadium. "We're moving on to the second stage -- and let's see what's gonna happen."
That series will begin Friday in Boston, and as the Red Sox sprayed each other with champagne and beer -- Ramirez often leading the charge, soaking third baseman Mike Lowell and Epstein himself -- and awaited the winner of the division series between Cleveland and New York. But first, a word about the vanquished.
"That's a great team over there," Lowell said.
The Angels won 94 games this year to become AL West champions. But they managed runs in just two of their 27 innings in the series, and the Red Sox outscored them 19-4. The Angels' hobbled lineup -- which amounted to right fielder Vladimir Guerrero and a bunch of extra parts -- hit .192. Boston had as many extra-base hits Sunday (six) as the Angels had in the series.
"We just couldn't match up with them," Angels Manager Mike Scioscia said.
That started with Josh Beckett's throwback, four-hit shutout in Game 1. It continued in Game 2, when Ramirez deflated the Angels with a game-ending, three-run homer that blew past the Green Monster and landed somewhere in southern New Hampshire.
And it finished here, with Schilling on the mound. Consider his 2007 season, a 9-8 record and 3.87 ERA in 151 innings. In 10 of his 24 starts, he was charged with four or more earned runs. It would seem -- with his age, with his record, with his stuff -- that he was vulnerable in a way that he wasn't in 2004, when he bled through his sock and pitched the Red Sox to a title.
The Red Sox, though, didn't feel that way -- at least publicly. As Ramirez said, "He's the man."
"I had a good feeling that 'Schill' was going to give us a good performance," Lowell said. "You can tell early when he's hitting his spots."
Ask Schilling, and he will tell you he was missing too many spots early, when the Angels hit a couple of balls hard. But there is no better measure of how in control he was than at a spot in the third, when the game was still scoreless.
With two outs, he had runners at the corners, and the indomitable Guerrero on his way to the plate. Given that the next hitter, Reggie Willits, was a fill-in for ailing Garret Anderson, Schilling looked at Guerrero and decided to issue four pitches out of the strike zone, seeing if Guerrero would chase, but loading the bases if he wouldn't. At that point, Schilling had thrown 31 pitches -- five balls.
After the walk to Guerrero, he got Willits to pop meekly to the catcher. That's pitching.
"As a younger pitcher, I had seven or eight more miles an hour," he said. "So stuff-wise, it was a very different thought process."
The thought process, though, allowed him remarkable efficiency. "I looked up at the scoreboard late in the game," Epstein said, "and he had thrown like 15 balls. But by my count, 11 of them were on purpose."
Which is, of course, what he does -- pitch with a purpose. "That's why he's here," said Manager Terry Francona.
Different age, different arm, different stuff, same goal. With a performance from Octobers past, Schilling moved closer to another World Series, where he well might reinvent himself one more time.