NEW YORK – The problem with Curt Schilling's right ankle was a tendon that kept slipping out of place. When it happened – such as in Game 1 of the American League Championship Series – the Boston Red Sox ace was an ineffective pitcher without balance or blast.
So Red Sox doctors went to work Monday. On the eve of Schilling taking the mound in another must-win game, they performed a grotesque procedure, stitching the skin immediately surrounding the tendon to his bone in the hope the tendon wouldn't move no matter how hard he pushed.
Seven innings, one run and a Game 6 masterpiece later, the stitches still held here at Yankee Stadium, just as the Sox held on to defeat New York 4-2 and hope held in New England for a comeback for the ages.
With their backs up against winter, against history, against more heartache, the Red Sox staved off elimination against the New York Yankees for the third time. They are the first team in baseball history to trail a series 3-0 and force a seventh game.
Wednesday, the drama and daring of the ALCS comes to a close the way many thought it would – even if the route to Game 7 was circuitous.
"I guess it was supposed to come to a Game 7," said Yankees manager Joe Torre, whose team is on the verge of an epic collapse usually reserved for the Red Sox.
It was supposed to come because of Schilling, whose heroic medical procedure left his own teammates in awe of his courage and conviction. Playing with blood from the procedure on his socks, Schilling gutted out a meaningful, mesmerizing effort in the face of what must have been nearly unbearable pain.
"I don't think any of us have any idea what he went through to pitch tonight," Red Sox manager Terry Francona said. "For him to go out there and do what he did – you can talk all you want about [the ankle] but his heart is so big. This was amazing."
In the long annals of Red Sox baseball this performance and this sacrifice will go down among the greatest.
With Boston again on the brink of elimination, with its bullpen in tatters from back-to-back extra-inning games and facing a cold, menacing night in its longtime South Bronx house of horrors, it was the moment for a big-time, big-money, big-game pitcher.
And that's exactly what Boston got – 99 pitches of four-hit, no-walk baseball that did more than win a game. Schilling simply demoralized the Yankees with each snuffed-out rally and 1-2-3 inning. He seemed to suck whatever life and hope there was out of the stadium.
The Yankees rallied to threaten against Boston's bend-but-not-break bullpen, but they couldn't overcome the hole Schilling had dug them.
Now it is New York that is wondering if it is cursed, if it will collapse, if it can turn this around. Now it's incredulous Yankees fans throwing beer bottles at umpires. Now it's the Yankees who must deal with apoplectic talk radio callers and riot gear cops to keep the peace.
Schilling, who nearly was pulled after the fifth due to his laboring pain, shrugged off talk of the ankle and cited his faith as getting him through.
"Seven years ago I became a Christian, and tonight God did something amazing for me," he said. "I tried to be as tough as I could and do it my way in Game 1, and I think we all saw how that turned out. I knew I couldn't do this alone. I just prayed for the strength to go out there and compete. He gave me that.
"I can't explain to you what a feeling it was to be out there and feel what I felt."
He later broke into a proud smile.
"I am so freaking proud to be a part of this team. ... This is unbelievable."
This is unbelievable. But this is why Boston is still alive. This is why the emotional core of two cities and a famous 86-year title drought will be tested again. This is why the Red Sox, who had been written off by half their own fans Saturday, were exchanging high fives with a memorial to Babe Ruth looking on.
Where other teams doubt, this team redoubles its efforts. Where other players quit, this team asks, "Why not?" When a player takes a star turn, he would rather talk about the team, not his tendon.
When an ankle gets hurt, a pitcher experiments with bizarre medical procedures if it might, just might, get one more quality start.
The Red Sox have stitched together one of the greatest comebacks in baseball history.
Wednesday they try to finish it by getting another crack at their rabid archrivals.
The gutsy ace they picked up last winter for just this kind of occasion has delivered them to the promise of a second chance at one last game.
Game 7, Yankee Stadium, for all the American League marbles. One more time.