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Schilling hoping start isn't a finish

By Bob Hohler
Globe Staff / October 19, 2004

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The way Curt Schilling saw last night's classic in the Fens, it was the 13th round of a 15-round heavyweight prizefight for the ages. Tonight, he represents Boston's great hope in Round 14.

Rising from the canvas of an injury-shortened start in Round 1, Schilling will try to help the Red Sox stage the greatest comeback in postseason history when he squares off against Jon Lieber at Yankee Stadium.

"It's a chance to get us one step closer to the World Series, a chance to make up for Game 1, a chance to pick up my teammates," Schilling said after David Ortiz's decisive single in the 14th inning of a 5-4 thriller in Game 5 kept alive the team's championship hopes. "I couldn't ask for anything more."

Schilling made sure before the Sox departed for New York after the epic that he packed his new Reebok high tops, which he hopes will stabilize the dislocated tendon in his right ankle well enough for him to pitch like the 21-game winner he was during the regular season rather than the hobbled hurler who lasted only three innings in a 10-7 loss in Game 1.

Schilling's brace failed during Game 1, causing his tendon to rub against his bone and alter his delivery, ultimately compromising his effectiveness.

"I think we've taken steps to ensure we won't have the same problem we had the first time," he said. "From that standpoint, I'm very confident."

General manager Theo Epstein, flush from witnessing "the greatest game ever played," was cautiously optimistic Schilling would deliver tonight.

"Anything can happen because he has an injury," Epstein said. "We'll have to monitor it, but we're as confident as we can be given the circumstances that he's going to be a healthy pitcher out there. He's ready to go."

As the co-MVP with Randy Johnson in the 2001 World Series for the Diamondbacks, Schilling knows how difficult it is to beat the Yankees in a postseason series. But last night's victory, which moved the Sox a step closer to becoming only the third team in postseason history to force a Game 7 after falling behind, 3-0, in a best-of-seven series (no team in 25 previous tries has come all the way back), gave the Sox momentum and hope.

"It's a great confidence boost for us," Gabe Kapler said of Schilling returning from his injury to start Game 6. "We know he's going to go out there and give us a quality start."

Pitching coach Dave Wallace preferred not to raise expectations, considering Schilling's injury is serious enough that he will require surgery as soon as his season ends.

"There are so many variables, you just don't know what to expect," Wallace said. "I couldn't even begin to put a number on [how many pitches Schilling might throw]."

But manager Terry Francona, whose pitching staff was woefully depleted after the 14-inning marathon and the 12-inning victory the night before, said lightheartedly, "Schill may throw 180 pitches tonight, who knows?"

The mere fact that Schilling planned to go again in the series was fairly remarkable. After his injury struck at the worst possible time, he appeared all but done for the year. But he twice tested the new Reebok cleat in bullpen sessions at Fenway and felt better each time he threw.

Now, Schilling gets another taste of a series he dreamed of influencing since he agreed to join the Sox last Thanksgiving. "It's been so much more than I imagined it would be," he said. "I've never seen anything like this. With these two teams, except for them beating the hell out of us the other night, no game is over, to use the cliche.

"It almost seems like the last team to hit wins. It's something special. I just want to be a part of it and be a positive part of it for this franchise."

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