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Schilling's Fausto-ian bargain

Tim Brown
Yahoo Sports

BOSTON – Curt Schilling – World Series MVP, 216-game winner, rotation anchor, blog master – gave it some thought, looked over the body of work accrued by this Fausto Carmona guy, and established the line for Game 2 of the American League championship series.

"You know," he said, setting the moment and shaving the expectations, "it's been a long time, I think, since I've gone into a game being an underdog. But, given the year he had and the way he's throwing, I can absolutely see why people think we're going to have a hard time winning that game.

"I know enough to know I'd rather be facing someone else."

Don't believe it.

Schilling adores this stuff, even more now that he's been rehabbed, reconditioned, repackaged and labeled a finesse pitcher (which isn't exactly accurate), just in time for the postseason lights to come on.

Already he's climbed over Daisuke Matsuzaka to draw the Game 2 start, increasing the likelihood he'll get the ball twice, both times at Fenway Park.

Already he's retaken his reputation as an October bully, his close-out win against the Los Angeles Angels on Sunday making him 9-2 in the playoffs.

So, three years removed from the whole sock-miracle thing, Schilling comes out of a season in which he arrived at spring training heavy and dropping contract hints, was shut down for six weeks with shoulder/conditioning issues, and ultimately won nine games in 24 starts with a wholly reasonable 3.87 earned-run average.

He also spent the last six months in the considerable shadows of Josh Beckett, who pitched his way to the top of the rotation, and Matsuzaka, who was the biggest story in the game for three or four months, then got average, and was still bigger than Schilling.

Along the way, Schilling strengthened his shoulder, turned his changeup into a functional big-league pitch, became a bit more comfortable pitching at less than 96 mph (though still around the major-league average), held to his signature splitter and had his best ERA of the season – 3.16 – in September.

"Well, everything has changed, stuff-wise," Schilling said. "We just have taken a much different approach to starting a game, tempo-wise, my stuff, maybe not being as adamant about establishing my fastball as I am about establishing the change of speeds I need to use to get lineups out on a consistent basis.

"You know … from a game standpoint, it really ends up being game dependant. I try to adapt and feel like I have five pitches to work with, and I'll go through a scouting report and try and assess what two pitches I have to have to get a team out. And I'll make sure those are working the day of the game. It's just, pure stuff has been the biggest change."

He is not completely defenseless, of course. He ran his fastball into the mid-90s regularly against the Angels, and can still pop one higher than that. He's smart enough to know when to throw the big fastball, guileful enough to make it look like the big fastball. The changeup has become a regular.

"In spring it was a work in progress and now it's a pitch that I get outs with in October," Schilling said. "I mean, that's as extreme a change as I guess you can have.

"Then, part of it is not getting the pitch and getting confident with it, it's getting comfortable enough to actually use it in a game. Now we're in October and to have the confidence to use any of those five pitches with any count, any hitter, is a very big change from where I was last February and March."

But, not quite big enough, apparently. Told Schilling made him the overwhelming favorite in Game 2, Carmona grinned. At 23, he is 17 years Schilling's junior. With 20 career wins (19 of them since April), he is a lifetime behind Schilling.

"I don't think Schilling is going to be the underdog," he said through a translator. "I don't believe that. I've got to pitch tomorrow. Then, we'll talk about it."

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