Schilling: Master and commander
If it's playoff time, veteran does what comes naturally -- win
ANAHEIM -- On the eve of his 16th career postseason start, 40-year-old Red Sox right-hander Curt Schilling told reporters that at his advanced age, his pitching style had changed to where he was now more like a sniper, as opposed to having a bazooka like teammate Josh Beckett.
The following day, the analogy rang true. With the pinpoint precision of the most gifted of marksmen, Schilling added another chapter to the riveting read that is his October resume.
"You hate to expect something like this out of anyone," said Red Sox catcher Jason Varitek. "But with Schill, you kind of do."
In front of a crowd of 45,262 at Angel Stadium on Sunday, Schilling again demonstrated why he is considered one of the best postseason pitchers in Major League history. In holding the Angels to six hits and a walk over seven shutout innings, he starred in a 9-1 victory that closed out a three-game sweep and ran his postseason record to 9-2 with a 1.93 ERA.
"The guy's amazing," offered Beckett. "Just amazing."
Of the first 25 pitches Schilling threw, 20 went for strikes. Of the first 40 he threw, 30 were strikes. And from his 100 total pitches, 76 were strikes -- the last being the one that got him out of one of two trouble spots that he encountered during his latest day of dominance.
With the bases loaded and two outs in the second inning, Schilling retired Reggie Willits on a foul popup to Varitek to keep the game scoreless.
"Schilling executed a great pitch to get out of that jam," marveled Red Sox skipper Terry Francona.
"That was huge," Varitek added.
Bigger still were the pitches Schilling made in the seventh. With a runner on third and one out and the score at 2-0, the righty got Juan Rivera on a popup to first baseman Kevin Youkilis before getting Mike Napoli to weakly wave at a slider for strike three. Schilling bounced off the mound with a series of emphatic fist pumps.
"I think if you saw the way I reacted to it, you know how important I thought it was," Schilling said. "There was a couple of points in this game where I felt like the game was on the line, and that was absolutely one of them."
"When he got himself backed into a corner," Francona said, "he executed his pitches."
While others were singing his praises, Schilling played the role of humble contributor, particularly when asked if such an outing is more satisfying when put together without the benefit of a Beckett-like bazooka.
"I don't know; in some ways, maybe," Schilling said. "We're trying to win the games. Whatever I can do in the mix, it makes you feel good to contribute. How you do it is not really relevant anymore for me."
Schilling, who battled shoulder tendinitis during the regular season, also went out of his way to credit Varitek and Boston pitching coach John Farrell.
"That performance today was as much about John Farrell and Jason Varitek as it was about anything, as far as I'm concerned," Schilling insisted. "It's been an incredibly arduous and long road, and a process that's had its peaks and valleys. But John has stuck with me and worked as hard as I've ever had a pitching coach work to get me to where I need to be.
"And Jason was flawless today. That was as well of a game called as I've ever had. ... Early in the game, I made a lot of mistakes command-wise, and fortunately, they took [those pitches] or they fouled [them] off, and then I thought we really got sharper as the game went on. [Varitek] didn't miss a beat. He just called a tremendous game."
Calling a great game is one thing, but pitching a great game is quite another, and doing it under postseason pressure is even tougher. But Schilling keeps doing it, over and over again.
"He's like a machine sometimes," Beckett said.
Just not a machine gun.
"As a younger pitcher, I had seven or eight more miles an hour, so stuff-wise, it was a very different thought process today," Schilling said. "But part of doing what I'm doing now is recognition of what I have, the situation and what we've done prior to that.
"And what we want to do later."
Mychael Urban is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.