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Schilling will throw himself into it

NEW YORK -- Bum ankle and all, Curt Schilling last night embraced the buildup for the greatest challenge of his Red Sox career as if he were trying to conquer much more than the Yankees.

Which he was, of course.

Schilling, who will oppose Mike Mussina tonight in Game 1 of the American League Championship Series at Yankee Stadium, laid plans last year when he joined the Sox to make a point of dispatching two powerful foes. First, the Yankees. Then, his own club's 86-year legacy of futility.

"I want to be part of a team that does something that has not been done in almost a century," Schilling said in a news conference, wearing a T-shirt emblazoned with his new credo, "Why Not Us?"

Never mind that Schilling, whose right ankle will be heavily taped and partially numbed by the anesthetic Marcaine, will make his first appearance in a Boston uniform in The House That Steinbrenner Rules. The walls may shake from the thunder of more than 55,000 opposing voices, but Schilling relished the thought of conquering the noise almost as much as the prospect of silencing the Yankees.

"I'm not sure I can think of any scenario more enjoyable than making 55,000 people from New York shut up," he said.

This is life as Schilling envisioned it, a mighty challenge on the biggest stage in baseball. This, he indicated, was his destiny.

"Since I got the ball for Game 1 in the playoffs in 1993 [with the Phillies], I felt like this is where I belonged and where I would excel beyond what I did in the regular season," Schilling said. "I still feel that way."

The Sox would relish Schilling excelling beyond a regular season in which he won more games than anyone else in baseball. He finished 21-6 with a 3.26 ERA (second best in the American League), and the Sox have won his last 10 starts, including Game 1 of the Division Series last week against the Angels.

The Yankees know what they're up against.

"He elevates his game, there's no question," manager Joe Torre said. "We watched him pitch against Anaheim, and he certainly has had practice on the big stage. There's something that gets into the great ones at this time of year that you know you have to deal with."

Mussina said Schilling has made "a big difference" in improving the Boston team the Yankees outlasted in last year's seven-game ALCS.

"I think he's done everything they would have wanted from him," Mussina said. "Maybe a little more."

Schilling and the Sox were so concerned about his ankle (he is suffering from inflammation of the peroneal tendons that run across the back of the ankle) that they performed "a test run" Monday at Fenway Park, injecting him with the anesthetic before he pitched off a bullpen mound. By all accounts, he weathered the session well.

"Everything worked great," Schilling said. "I'm not planning on it being an issue."

He said he developed the injury while he pitched against the Orioles at Fenway Park Sept. 21, surrendering only three hits and a walk while striking out 14 over eight scoreless innings in a 3-2 victory. He said the discomfort cost him some velocity on his fastball until the medical staff identified the injury and began treating it.

The rest is up to him.

"I'm going to go out there and I'm going to leave myself out there," he said. "I'm pouring everything I have into my game and into my preparation."

Sox manager Terry Francona, who spent several years with Schilling in Philadelphia, knows how much Schilling savors moments like this.

"He's been looking forward to this situation, this type of game, for a long time," Francona said. "Sure, it doesn't guarantee wins, but I think you're going to see the best of Schill."

The Yankees would rather have seen him in pinstripes. General manager Brian Cashman said he tried to pry Schilling away from the Diamondbacks and was taken by surprise when the Sox acquired him for Casey Fossum, Brandon Lyon, Jorge de la Rosa, and a player to be named. Cashman recalled Schilling publicly saying he would not go to Boston and wanted to play for the Yankees or Phillies.

"That was something that was unanticipated, at least by me," Cashman said. "When a player comes out and publicly and says he won't go somewhere, I never expected really Boston to come out and try to make a play and convince him otherwise."

Schilling indicated all the convincing he needed was hearing Francona could be his manager.

"When I heard that Terry had been interviewed and had a good interview, it became a situation that I thought I might be interested in playing in," he said. "That took about five minutes to develop once I started talking to the Diamondbacks and literally the next morning that deal had been made and I was talking to the Red Sox."

Sox GM Theo Epstein believed the deal had less to do with Schilling's affinity for Francona than Arizona's inability to strike a deal with the Yankees or Phillies.

But whatever the case, the Sox and Schilling have hit it off. And Schilling fears the "aura and mystique" of the Yankee tradition no more than he did when he described them as "dancers in a nightclub" while helping to lead the D-Backs to the 2001 world championship.

"God has blessed me with some incredible ability and I feel like at this point during the season that the best players in the world step up and use that ability," he said. "I feel like I have the ability to do that." 

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