At first glance, all was bliss yesterday at Fenway Park. The day after the Red Sox clinched a berth in their second straight American League Championship Series, principal owner John W. Henry happily prepared to play catch on his famous lawn in the Fens. Manager Terry Francona, as calm as he possibly could be as one of the most scrutinized decision-makers in America, stopped by to feed the media beast before he spent a relaxing afternoon with his father. And while the grounds crew carefully manicured the sun-splashed turf, camera-toting tour groups trained their lenses everywhere from the Monster scoreboard to the tobacco-stained Sox dugout.
Yet there was an uneasy feeling on Yawkey Way. Three days before Curt Schilling was expected to start Game 1 of the Championship Series against the Yankees in the Bronx, Sox officials acknowledged various levels of concern about his injured right ankle.
Team medical director Bill Morgan said Schilling is battling inflammation of his peroneal tendons. The two tendons run behind the outside bone of the ankle and are considered vital to balancing the ankle and the back of the foot.
"We've got some concerns about his ankle," Morgan said. "The guy is such a workhorse, he's had a fair amount of discomfort. We're just going to try to find ways to get him through the next three weeks."
Morgan referred Schilling to Dr. George H. Theodore, an orthopedic surgeon who is the chief of the foot and ankle service at Massachusetts General Hospital and a specialist in sports-related injuries. Theodore substantiated the findings of the Sox medical staff, which diagnosed Schilling's injury as tendinitis, and helped recommend a course of treatment.
Francona said he expects Schilling to use the anesthetic Marcaine to alleviate the soreness, as he did to ease the discomfort from a deep bone bruise in his right ankle joint earlier in the season. Morgan, who prescribed cortisone treatment for the previous condition, said he did not plan to further treat Schilling with cortisone.
Schilling has downplayed the injury and has all but guaranteed he will make every scheduled start the rest of the way. And though team officials expressed no doubt Schilling would take his regular turns, they were left to wonder exactly how much discomfort he planned to pitch through. Henry said he was "mildly" concerned.
"I talked with him the other day and he's not concerned," Henry said, "but he's such a warrior that you can't know."
Since Schilling aggravated the injury while leading the Sox past the Angels, 9-3, in Game 1 of the Division Series Tuesday in Anaheim, Henry said "it probably has helped" that Schilling will have two additional days to rest before he opens the Championship Series. Schilling would have started Game 5 against the Angels today.
Francona said Schilling threw 52 pitches tuning up in the bullpen Friday before the Sox clinched the Division Series.
"That's a pretty good session," Francona said. "He's got some things we're trying to manage -- I think that's the best word -- so he can pitch the way he wants to pitch and not have it be a problem."
Morgan attributed the injury to "wear and tear" partly related to the force the 37-year-old exerts in driving off the mound. Francona said X-rays eliminated the possibility Schilling suffered a stress fracture and noted the Sox were experimenting with different ways to tape the ankle to help him pitch through the discomfort.
Schilling was less sharp than he liked in Game 1 of the Division Series, though he set the tone for solid starts by Pedro Martinez in Game 2 and Bronson Arroyo in Game 3 by surrendering only three runs (two earned) on nine hits and a pair of walks over 6 2/3 innings.
His injury has further cemented the team's opposition to pitching him or any other starter on less than four days' rest. The Sox also have considered the historical record. Before Johan Santana started for the Twins yesterday against the Yankees on three days' rest, pitchers who started postseason games since 1999 on three days' rest were 7-20.
"I don't think most people in our organization view that as an advantage," Francona said.
Since the Sox tentatively plan to stick with their four-man rotation of Schilling, Martinez, Arroyo, and Tim Wakefield, Schilling would pitch Games 1 and 5 of the Championship Series and Martinez would work Games 2 and 6. If a Game 7 were necessary, Arroyo would be in line to start.
Sox officials, while not directly referring to a Game 7 scenario, expressed full confidence in Arroyo, who held the Angels to two runs over six innings Friday in helping to clinch the Division Series. Henry said he was "very impressed" by Arroyo's poise in his debut as a postseason starter.
"He's a winner," Henry said. "He's thrown the ball really well, better than his statistics have shown."
Francona said Arroyo's success Friday should embolden him for the next round.
"If you can handle that success the way he seems to be handling things, he's going to get better," Francona said. "By that, I mean working harder and not really letting it go to your head. He's done everything just the way you're supposed to."
Despite their concerns about Schilling's ankle, the Sox expect him to continue to set the pace for the rotation. They also were heartened by Martinez's impressive performance in surrendering three runs over seven innings in an 8-3 victory Wednesday in Game 2 in Anaheim. Martinez himself was encouraged by the outing (he regularly hit 94 to 96 miles per hour on the radar gun).
"My arm feels great," he said. "I feel strong. I feel like I can click whenever I want."
The Sox were particularly pleased by how gracefully Martinez accepted his role behind Schilling in the postseason rotation.
"I know I achieved a lot, and I know I have my little share of respect," Martinez said. "But when you talk about the playoffs, there is no time to be mad, there is no time to complain, there is no soreness that you can't overcome sometimes. And I hope I can continue to do it. I am going to leave my heart out there for my team."