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COMMENTARY

It's always something with Sox

NEW YORK -- Forget about the Curse and all that nonsense. The real ongoing issue with the Boston Red Sox is the fact that they are eternally held hostage by what we shall call "Gilda's Law." (OK, Roseanne Roseannadanna's.)

You know: "It's always something." When does anything ever go smoothly for the Red Sox? Ted Williams gets hit on the elbow in a specially arranged exhibition game prior to the 1946 World Series and is woefully ineffective against the Cardinals. Jim Rice is hit by a Vern Ruhle pitch and cannot participate in the 1975 postseason. And now Curt Schilling has a bum right ankle just when the most important games of the season are being played.

It's official now. Schilling has a certifiably messed-up ankle.

How bad is his ankle? According to medical director William Morgan, it's bad enough to require surgery that will necessitate a three-month rehabilitation (guess we know Curt and Shonda won't be trotting off to Europe during the offseason). It's bad enough that, and these are Dr. Morgan's words: "If this was your problem, we would put you in a cast."

So much for the best-laid plans of mice, men, and Theo Epstein. "I think Schill's been shooting for [Tuesday] night's game since last Thanksgiving," lamented manager Terry Francona.

Game 1 against the Evil Empire was supposed to be Schilling's very raison d'etre. He had come here to pitch the Red Sox to a world's championship, nothing less. He encouraged people to believe in him, making it clear that big games were his specialty, even though he had to know how vulnerable he was. But he insisted his right ankle was "not an issue." There was nothing iffy about that declaration. "Not an issue" is a long way from "I think I'll be OK," or "We'll see how it goes."

The fans and media bought into it. More importantly, the manager bought into it. With the glorious benefit of 20-20 hindsight, we can all see now that it was a monumental reach. Schilling had very little chance of success against the Yankees Tuesday night.

Dr. Morgan presented himself to the media late yesterday afternoon and he patiently explained just what was going on with Schilling's right ankle. He has dislocated a tendon, and Dr. Morgan said "dislocating" it means there is a "snapping over the side of the bone itself. It snaps in and out and it becomes an unstable situation."

The right ankle is the righthanded Schilling's push-off ankle. If it is not sufficiently stable, he cannot deliver the baseball with the proper thrust, on top of which there is an obvious risk of injury to his arm or shoulder if he were to try some compensatory maneuver. If the ankle isn't stable, he can't pitch, period.

So the task is to find a way to stabilize the ankle with some combination of bracing and taping, with an injection of Marcaine to aid with any pain. If a way can be found to do this, then it is conceivable Schilling could pitch Game 5. We laymen are in no position to make definitive pronouncements about the probability of that happening. But it doesn't sound very likely to me, and I suspect it doesn't sound very likely to you, either.

If he doesn't pitch, we say goodbye to the Grand Plan, which was to win the American League Championship Series and World Series behind the unstoppable 1-2 pitching punch of Schilling and Pedro Martinez. OK, it's farewell to the Grand Plan, but don't look for any concession notes to the Yankees locker room.

"If we're not able to overcome some adversity," said Francona, "and whether it's Schill getting beat in Game 1, if that's all it ends up being, which we're hopeful, or it ends up being more than that; if we're not able to overcome it, we're not a good team. I don't think anybody in that locker room or clubhouse, including myself, thinks that's the case."

The Red Sox weren't entirely unprepared for this development. It is, frankly, why Francona and Epstein elected to delete Kevin Youkilis from the ALCS roster and add Ramiro Mendoza. They had to be concerned watching Schilling clutch his ankle when he came off the mound attempting to field that dribbler in Anaheim; it's no secret he's been battling right ankle difficulties just about all season. One way or the other, the brass thought they would need that 11th pitcher.

OK, it's a setback. Everybody has setbacks. Joe Torre has had to cobble together a rotation on more than one occasion, including this year. Or how about last year, when, during one of the national anthems, pitching coach Mel Stottlemyre tugged Torre on the sleeve and said, "I don't think [David] Wells can pitch?" Schilling can't pitch? That's life. But in this case it's so classically Red Sox, isn't it? Things were looking too deliciously good.

Here's the deal. Each of the non-Schilling starters available to Francona is very capable of winning a game against the Yankees. It's that simple. Will they? I don't know. But they could. If Derek Lowe replaces Schilling in Game 5 and throws seven great innings, would that be a monumental story? Hardly. The guy once won 21 games. He can pitch.

This is just another reason for the most narcissistic fan base in all of North America to feel sorry for itself. Fortunately, the principals lack that negative fan DNA.

"It's a cruel world," said Epstein. "But we can win this series, and we plan on doing so. Last year John Burkett got a start and he pitched great. There isn't one guy on our team who thinks this series is over."

Yes, it would be a lot easier task with Curt Schilling. Easy, easy. When has it ever been easy for the Boston Red Sox? 

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