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The Sox had to hand it to Curt Schilling after he allowed the Cardinals just one unearned run.
The Sox had to hand it to Curt Schilling after he allowed the Cardinals just one unearned run. (Globe Staff Photo / Jim Davis)
JACKIE MACMULLAN

Painful day, then win sewn up

He couldn't go.

Curt Schilling wasn't hedging on this. He wasn't thinking maybe, or I'm doubtful, or let's see.

He was OUT. He was out as the Red Sox' Game 2 starter of the World Series.

"I woke up at 7 o'clock in the morning," explained Boston's ace. "That was a tipoff right there. I've never woken up at 7 in the morning for anything in my life.

"I wasn't going to pitch. I couldn't walk. I couldn't move. I didn't know what happened, but I knew as soon as I woke up there was a problem."

His problem quickly became the problem of the Red Sox. Schilling was the automatic W. He was the one they were counting on to pin the St. Louis Cardinals against the Green Monster with a 2-0 Series deficit. He has been their most prolific, charismatic, and demonstrative player in this postseason, an almost mythical figure as he clawed his way through an ankle injury that will require surgery whenever this mystical, magical run is over.

The diagnosis was made long ago: a dislocated tendon that the Sox' medical staff sutured together for the critical ALCS Game 6 against the Yankees. When Schilling took the mound that night in Yankee Stadium a million years ago (seems that way, doesn't it?), nobody could have imagined a grittier, gutsier, or more inspiring performance.

Compared to last night, that was nothing.

What Schilling submitted on a gray, cold, unforgiving night of baseball was truly unfathomable. He went from being unable to walk from his kitchen to his car to shutting down a Cardinals lineup that includes Jim Edmonds, Scott Rolen, and Larry Walker. He went from feeling more helpless than he's ever felt in his career to literally seizing this game and taking it over.

When Schilling trotted to the hill just after 8 p.m., the most surprised person in the park was his wife, Shonda, who had watched Schilling hobble into his car and back out of the driveway to give his baseball team the dreaded news.

"I told her it wasn't going to happen," he said. "There was no way. But that's when everything started. I left my house, and I'm driving to the park, and anyone who knows where Medfield is, they know it's a pretty long haul.

"There were signs every mile from my house to this ballpark on fire stations, on telephone poles, wishing me luck. I can't explain what it was like.

"So I get here [to Fenway], and got out of the car, got into the trainer's room, and Doc [Bill Morgan] was there."

The Sox' medical staff examined Schilling and quickly determined an extra suture they had sewn in Saturday to provide some added stability to the area had nicked a nerve. As soon as that suture was removed, Schilling began experiencing automatic relief.

"And then it starts happening," Schilling said. "You start looking around at your teammates and understanding what you've been through over the past eight months, what it means to me.

"And then I did what I did the last time: I went to the Lord for help, because I knew, again, I wasn't going to be able to do this myself."

As Mr. Curt's Wild Ride was unfolding throughout the day, his blissful fans knew nothing of his ordeal. All they knew was minutes before Game 2 last night, Boston's prized pitcher was stalking -- no, stalking would have been far too painful -- let's say he was striding, back and forth to see if his sutured ankle could withstand another night of baseball. Nobody wanted to put pressure on the ace of this team, who already underwent a radical procedure never before performed on anyone except a cadaver.

Losing Schilling would have been a glancing blow to the Red Sox, who would have had to turn to Derek Lowe or Pedro Martinez, each of whom would have been pitching on three days' rest, to take the ball. It would have completely muddled the pitching rotation. It would have taken away the automatic W. It would have left them without their most potent pitcher.

It was a struggle for Curt Schilling last night, a struggle from the first fastball he fired past shortstop Edgar Renteria, to the final pitch that induced a grounder from Reggie Sanders in the sixth. His foot was numb, his mind was racing, and his hip flexor was tightening somewhere around the third inning.

He threw 24 pitches in that first inning, and 12 of them were to Renteria. It was exactly what the Red Sox had hoped to avoid, to put too much stress on Schilling too soon. Still, he escaped unscathed when Scott Rolen's screaming liner was snared by Bill Mueller.

Although trouble was lurking in almost every inning, Schilling was able to sidestep almost all of it. The Cardinals finally scored a run in the fourth, but it was unearned.

The Red Sox gave their starting pitcher plenty of run support (hey, it's the least they could do) to log this W. They will gladly do it again for him, provided there is a next time.

Can Schilling pitch again?

"I don't know," he admitted. "I haven't thought about it. I'm thinking about Pedro on the mound [tomorrow] in St. Louis. I'm a little beat up right now. It's the first time in my life I've felt my age."

Schilling is 37. In all of those years, he never had a night like last night, when the impossible turned into the incredible.

"I wish everybody on this planet could experience the day I just experienced," he said. "I will never use the words unbelievable and the Lord again in the same sentence."

Schilling says he doesn't know if he could pitch again, but we do.

Of course he could. Haven't we learned anything?

Never -- ever -- count him out.

He's already had the ride of his life.

Jackie MacMullan is a Globe columnist. Her e-mail address is macmullan@globe.com.

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