There’s an old saying in sports, one that applies to every walk of life, that stresses, “Act like you’ve been there before.”
Nobody did that better on the World Series champion Boston Red Sox than Curt Schilling. He was the most significant acquisition of the season, in part because he really had been there before. When he strode into the Sox clubhouse for the first time and started talking about what it takes to win, he could flash his Arizona Diamondbacks World Series ring as proof.
Schilling became an instant presence in the Sox clubhouse. He had an opinion on everything, from politics to the media to steroids to Alex Rodriguez, and he didn’t hesitate to share it. Sometimes, it seemed as though he never stopped talking, but rarely were the wisdom of his words questioned when it came to baseball.
“I learned so much from him,” said Bronson Arroyo, the youngest member of the starting rotation. “Nobody studies hitters more thoroughly. Nobody prepares better than him. And he’s perfectly willing to share all of his information with you. All you have to do is ask -- actually, you don’t even have to ask, because he’s going to tell you anyway.”
There was a time when Schilling would only agree to a trade to certain cities, with the New York Yankees -- not the Red Sox -- on that list. But then he learned Terry Francona, his former manager in Philadelphia, was a leading candidate to be named the skipper in Boston, and Schilling reconsidered. General manager Theo Epstein’s now legendary Thanksgiving feast with Schilling and his family landed Boston the top-tier pitcher Epstein felt would make the difference for his team, and Schilling landed a couple of enticing incentives. If the Sox won the World Series, he would receive a $2 million bonus (tacked onto next year’s salary) and a $13 million extension for the 2007 season.
With Schilling, Pedro Martinez, Derek Lowe, and Tim Wakefield in the rotation, Epstein skipped back East convinced his team truly could win it all -- if Schilling could stay healthy.
The city of Boston immediately embraced Schilling. The fans liked his outspoken nature, his meticulous preparation, and his appreciation for the history and the culture of the city. Schilling was not the Opening Day pitcher; that honor went to the ace-in-residence, Martinez, who took a 7-2 loss. Two days later, on April 6 in Baltimore, Schilling scattered six hits over six innings to pick up his first victory in a Sox uniform in a 4-1 win. It was one of many times throughout the course of the season he would follow a Boston loss with a win.
The fact that Schilling was durable and able to pitch deep into games became more valuable as the summer wore on. His first complete game of the season came in a 9-1 trouncing of Kansas City in May, when he struck out eight, and benefited from, among other things, an inside-the-park home run by Pokey Reese.
The Red Sox were maddeningly inconsistent through much of their run to the championship, but Schilling became one of the more reliable components. In the final nine weeks of the season, he posted a 9-1 record, including a key 10-1 win in Chicago Aug. 20, and an 11-4 victory over Tampa Bay Sept. 16, his 20th win.
Schilling, as expected, was the starting pitcher in the Division Series against the Angels. He won, but damaged his right ankle, already sore from tendinitis, on a fielding play. Although it was not disclosed at the time, Schilling had dislocated the tendon in his ankle, and would need surgery in the offseason.
He was given injections to numb the pain, but when he took the mound for Game 1 of the American League Championship Series against the Yankees, it was apparent something was wrong. Schilling was unable to push off the mound in his customary fashion, and his pitching suffered. The Yankees beat the already battered Schilling, and that wasn’t even the worst news.
Schilling’s immediate future appeared to be in serious doubt.
”I can’t pitch if I’m like this again,” he conceded.
Over the next three days, the Sox medical staff devised a way for him to get back on the mound. They sutured his tendon together the day before the game, a procedure that has only been tried on cadavers, not real people, and certainly not Hall of Fame pitchers. With the sutures in tow, Schilling tossed a gritty 4-2 win over New York in Game 6 to tie the series, 3-3. His performance was immediately declared an instant classic.
”I’m convinced 10 years from now, they’ll be saying Willis Reed pulled a Curt Schilling, instead of the other way around,” said an impressed Epstein.
The big righthander’s performance was one of the most dramatic in Red Sox playoff history -- until, that is, he took the mound in Game 2 of the World Series against St. Louis.
The morning of his scheduled start in Game 2, Schilling awoke early and was immediately alarmed. He couldn’t walk on his ankle. His foot felt numb. Something had gone terribly wrong. As he hobbled to his car, he told his wife, Shonda, he was driving to Fenway to tell the team he couldn’t pitch.
When he arrived, the medical staff examined him, and determined an extra suture attached for added stability was pressing on a nerve. Once they removed that suture, Schilling’s symptoms dissipated almost immediately.
That night, he did not give up an earned run in six innings against the Cardinals. After he had tucked away yet another postseason W, an exhausted Schilling said, “I wish everyone on this planet could experience the day I just experienced.”
Questions about whether he would be able to pitch again were moot. After his Game 2 gem, Martinez and Derek Lowe followed suit with superb outings, and St. Louis was gone, swept in four straight.
Schilling, Martinez, and Lowe combined to pitch 20 innings (with a combined 14 strikeouts) without giving up an earned run. They proved to be the best postseason rotation in baseball.
”I came here to help the Red Sox win a World Series,” said Schilling. “And we were able to do it because we had the greatest bunch of guys who never stopped believing in each other, even when everybody else had stopped believing.
”I knew we could do this.”
Of course he did. Schilling, after all, had done it before.