Schilling's unexpected second chance

Dan Wetzel

NEW YORK – The pitcher whose season was supposed to be over takes the mound Tuesday for the team whose season was supposed to be over, all on the grandest stage in baseball.

Start spreading the news, Curt Schilling's pitching today.

Of all the twists and turns of this wild American League Championship Series, none may prove as important as the return of the Boston ace to Yankee Stadium (8:05 p.m. ET).

Schilling was rocked a week ago in Game 1 due to a tendon problem in his right foot that many figured would finish him for the postseason. But he will try to beat Jon Lieber and continue Boston's improbable comeback against New York.

"Ready to go," Schilling promised Monday.

Again facing elimination if they lose, the Red Sox will turn to the 37-year-old right-hander who was signed in part because of his success against the Yankees. In 2001 he helped Arizona beat New York in the World Series by allowing just 4 earned runs in 21-1/3 innings pitched.

Boston general manager Theo Epstein spent last Thanksgiving at Schilling's home in suburban Phoenix convincing him that Boston was perfect for him. In doing so, Epstein out-maneuvered the Yankees, who also coveted Schilling.

He instantly became not just Boston's best pitcher – 21-6 with a 3.26 ERA – but also a fan favorite for his Internet fan board postings and talk radio call-ins. As much as anyone he seems to understand how much beating New York means to Boston.

"I'm not sure I can think of any scenario more enjoyable than making 55,000 people from New York shut up," he said before the ALCS of pitching at Yankee Stadium.

Which made his injury so critical. Boston's starters were supposed to be an advantage over New York. But Schilling was injured in the ALDS. During Game 1, a tendon in his right ankle kept popping out of place, prohibiting him from getting the necessary leg drive to pitch effectively.

New York whacked him for six earned runs in just three innings.

Wednesday, Epstein and team doctor Bill Morgan expressed minimal confidence Schilling would pitch again without surgery.

"The tendon is snapping over the bone," Morgan said.

The only solution was to find a way to stop that.

"We won't send Curt out unless the tendon is stable, unless it's in one place and he can have his normal delivery," Epstein said. "As you saw [in Game 1], any pitcher who has to pitch without his legs underneath him who can't properly balance, who cannot properly stay aligned on the way to home plate can't be effective.

"If we can get Curt to the point where we can have normal mechanics then he'll be out there. But we won't compromise the team by sending out [a] Curt Schilling who won't be effective, and we won't sacrifice Curt's long-term health, either."

With that Epstein frowned. It looked like Boston was going to have to win the series without its ace.

Now, who knows? There again is optimism concerning the tendon. But the Sox thought they had solved the problem before and didn't.

"We've taken steps to ensure that we won't have the same problem we had the first time; that much I know," said Schilling, who will wear a special shoe in an attempt to hold the tendon in place. "So from that standpoint I'm very confident.

"You know, I never mentally shut it down," Schilling continued. "I was incredibly disappointed. But, the medical staff exhausted every scenario we could exhaust till we found something that could work, and that was pretty much a last-gasp effort that ended up working."

If Schilling is even 90 percent he is Boston's best hope to keep this thing going. He was 2-0 in three starts against New York during the regular season. With almost nothing left in the rotation – probable Game 7 starter Bronson Arroyo pitched an inning of relief Monday – there is little other choice.

The Sox are trying to become the first team in baseball history to win a best-of-seven series it trailed 3-0. It has happened just twice in pro sports history - both in hockey – the last time in 1975.

To defy all odds, you need to gamble.

"He just needed another side session," manager Terry Francona said Monday. "He's a tough guy. But again, we wanted him to pitch if he could pitch being healthy, not at risk, and also being able to be productive. I think that's where we're at."

After two dramatic, extra-inning, come-from-behind victories by Boston, the Red Sox are a surging, swaggering team gaining confidence while the Yankees wonder what it is going to take to finish these guys. And now, Schilling adds a shot of X-factor to the mix.

"[The ALCS] has been so much more than I imagined it would be," said Schilling. "I've never seen anything like this. These two teams, except for [Game 3], it's never over in these series and these games until you get that last out.

"It's something special. I just want to be a part of it."

In Game 6 at the Stadium, the wild-card ace gets his second, unexpected chance for his unexpected second-chance team.