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Dan Shaughnessy

Schilling the toast of the town again

ANAHEIM, Calif. - Trailed by his wife, who was toting a small video camera to preserve a few more memories for a lifetime, Curt Schilling walked into the postgame interview room wearing a champagne-soaked T-shirt that read, "The Season Begins Now."

It certainly does for Schilling. He is the Reggie Jackson of pitchers. He is a man for one season.

Post season.

Forty years old and not able to throw much harder than John Burkett, Big Schill is the Mr. October of Moundsmen. Yesterday afternoon he threw the Red Sox into the 2007 American League Championship Series with seven innings of six-hit pitching in a 9-1 win against an Angels lineup with wounded wings and no prayer.

For those scoring at home, Schilling is now 9-2 in postseason play. His .818 winning percentage is the best in playoff history among pitchers with 10 or more decisions. Those stats are a little skewed because guys like Bob Gibson and Sandy Koufax didn't have three rounds of playoffs in which to perform, but you simply cannot take anything away from Schilling on this one. Say what you want about the big lug (and I have), he wants the ball in the big games and he delivers.

He did it with the Phillies (MVP of the 1993 NLCS). He did it with the Diamondbacks (co-MVP of the 2001 World Series). He did it with the Red Sox in 2004 (3-1, including a couple of games you might remember in which he pitched with a bloody sock). And he did it yesterday, throwing autumnal zeroes again after a season in which he lost his fastball and won only nine games.

Taking nothing away from Schilling, one must acknowledge that the Angels were pathetic. Gary Matthews Jr. (knee) did not play in the series, Casey Kotchman was not in the lineup yesterday, Vladimir Guerrero was plagued by A-Rod disease and a sore shoulder, and Garret Anderson (conjunctivitis) finally had to sit after playing two-plus games with one eye. This meant Schilling was pitching to a lineup that featured a guy with no homers in 475 major league at-bats (Reggie Willits) batting cleanup. Small wonder Los Angeles hit .192 and scored only four runs in the series (the Los Angeles Times had certainly given up - its Angels coverage was on page 20 of yesterday's sports section).

Schilling has reinvented himself since he went on the shelf with shoulder problems this summer. Virtually overnight, he went from being Roger Clemens to being Greg Maddux. He did not win many games after he came back from his rehab, but he demonstrated an ability to get batters out and it served him well yesterday.

Years from now folks will look back at Game 3 of the 2007 ALDS, see the 9-1 score, and perhaps dismiss the contribution of Boston's starting pitcher. Not fair. This was a tight ballgame every time Schilling threw a pitch. It was scoreless through three and it was 2-0 when he put a runner on third with one out in the seventh. True to form, Schilling got what he needed - a popup from the overeager Juan Rivera. Then he put a punctuation mark on his day's work, striking out Mike Napoli on his 100th (76 strikes) and final pitch.

"There were a couple of points in this game where I felt like the game was on the line and that was absolutely one of them," said Schilling.

"Schilling executed a great pitch to get out of that jam," added manager Terry Francona, who likes Schill as much as I like ice cream.

Schilling's one walk is another misleading statistic. He walked Guerrero with runners on first and third and two outs in the third, when it was still 0-0. Technically it was not an intentional walk, but Schilling missed on all four pitches and it was clear that he wasn't going to give the Angels' only threat anything to hit. Since Schill is a certified strike machine, you can be pretty sure he's not going to walk a guy in that situation for lack of control. It was smart and effective. Willits, the anti-cleanup hitter - was up next and popped up to Jason Varitek.

Schilling gave all the credit to his catcher and his pitching coach, John Farrell. Regarding the John Wayne-esque pitching coach, Schilling said, "He's helped carve the new niche that I'm in as a pitcher, mentally and physically."

It is a remarkable achievement. Schilling can't hit 90 miles per hour on the gun anymore, but he's still a guy who can put you in position to win. And he's a guy you want in the big games. He is 4-0 with a 0.93 ERA in five career starts in Division Series. His overall postseason ERA is 1.93.

Josh Beckett is the Red Sox' new ace, but who is the starting pitcher you'd want on the mound for a Game 7 against the Indians or (gulp) Yankees?

Schill. A guy who knows that the season begins now.

Dan Shaughnessy is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at dshaughnessy@globe.com.

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