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Schilling announces retirement

Posted by Chad Finn, Globe Staff  March 23, 2009 10:40 AM

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Curt Schilling, who in his four seasons in Boston cemented his reputation as one of the finest big-game pitchers of any era, announced his retirement today, ending his 20-year big league career.

Schilling, a winner of 216 regular-season games and a crucial contributor to the Red Sox' 2004 and 2007 World Championships, made the announcement on his WEEI.com blog "38 Pitches" this morning, writing:

"This party has officially ended. After being blessed to experience 23 years of playing professional baseball in front of the world's best fans in so many different places, it is with zero regrets that I am making my retirement official."

Schilling, 42, missed all of last season with a shoulder injury after signing a one-year, $8 million contract. He had surgery last June and had said he might come back in the middle of this season, even mentioning the Cubs and Rays as possibilities. He made no reference to his injury on his blog.

"The things I was allowed to experience, the people I was able to call friends, teammates, mentors, coaches and opponents, the travel, all of it, are far more than anything I ever thought possible in my lifetime," he wrote.

Red Sox personnel were effusive in their praise of the big righthander this morning at the Red Sox' spring training facility in Ft. Myers, Fla.

"He made a profound impact while he was here," said Red Sox general manager Theo Epstein, who made the pivotal deal to acquire Schilling from the Arizona Diamondbacks in November 2003. "He helped us win two World Series, had some great seasons for us. He really proved with the career that he had and the games that he pitched when it mattered the most, he deserves to be remembered among the all-time greats. He did some of his best work with us."

Schilling retires with a 216-146 record and 3.46 ERA, and ranks 14th all time with 3,116 strikeouts. But Schilling, a three-time World Champion (he also won with Arizona in 2001), accomplished his greatest feats when the games meant the most.

In 19 postseason starts, he compiled an 11-2 record with a 2.23 ERA, striking out 120 batters in 133.1 innings while allowing just 104 hits. His teams won 10 of the 12 playoff series in which he pitched.

Red Sox catcher and captain Jason Varitek said Schilling's importance to the franchise should not be underestimated.

"I don't think we're standing where we're at, having won two world championships, without Curt," Varitek said. "What he brought in his preparation as a winning commodity, as a winning pitcher, somebody that strived for this organization to do well, to work towards doing what his organization hadn't done in 86 years. He cares about winning. And he cared about this organization doing well."

Red Sox manager Terry Francona, who also managed Schilling with the Philadelphia Phillies beginning in 1997, said Schilling's unyielding competitiveness is part of what set him apart, especially in the biggest moments.

"He'd give you everything he has," said Francona, who noted that Schilling pitched the first game he managed in the big leagues. "Every time he pitched, you felt like you had a chance to win. He had the ability to reach back for more about as good as anybody I've ever seen.

"Even in Philadelphia when we were struggling to win, you felt like you had a pretty good team that day he was pitching."

Schilling's place in Red Sox lore is secure because of his legendary performance in 2004, when he played a significant and symbolic role in helping the club end its 86-year old championship drought.

After aggravating an ankle injury in the 2004 American League Division Series against the Los Angeles Angels, an injured Schilling clearly was not himself in a loss to the New York Yankees in Game 1 of the ALCS, allowing six earned runs in three innings, and again it seemed a Red Sox season was destined to end in disappointment.

But after Red Sox team doctor Dr. Bill Morgan devised a procedure that held an injured tendon in the ankle in place with sutures, Schilling shut down the Yankees in Game 6 (7 innings, 4 hits, 1 earned run) and the Red Sox rallied from a 3-games-to-none deficit to win the series.

Blood from the sutures seeped through his sock as he pitched, creating one of the defining images in Red Sox history.

The procedure was repeated again in Game 2 of the World Series against the St. Louis Cardinals, with blood again staining Schilling's Sox as he pitched very well en route to victory. The sock is on display at the Baseball Hall of Fame.

"The only thing I hope I did was never put in question my love for the game, or my passion to be counted on when it mattered most," Schilling wrote on his blog. "I did everything I could to win every time I was handed the ball."

Schilling was drafted by the Red Sox in the second round of the 1986 draft, but while he was still in the minors he was traded to the Baltimore Orioles along with outfielder Brady Anderson in exchange for pitcher Mike Boddicker on July 29, 1988.

He pitched for the Orioles, Houston, Philadelphia and Arizona before the Red Sox acquired him in a trade with the Diamondbacks for pitchers Casey Fossum, Brandon Lyon, and Jorge de la Rosa and outfielder Michael Goss on Nov. 28, 2003.

In another bit of lore, Epstein and other members of the front office helped sell Schilling on the concept of pitching for the Sox over Thanksgiving dinner at the pitcher's home. For Schilling and the franchise, it turned out to be an incredibly rewarding meal.

"I think in the end, we really didn't need to sell it," Epstein said. "The Red Sox were perfect for him, because he likes the big stage, the history of the game. He likes to be the center of attention. It was a good fit."

Adam Kilgore of the Globe staff contributed to this report.

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