Schilling Still Adapting

Of the pitchers who will take the mound in the upcoming playoffs, no one is more battle-tested or proven than Curt Schilling. But as accomplished as Schilling is, he is a work in progress as he prepares for what will likely be his start of the regular season tonight.

Schilling has been forced to make numerous concessions to Father Time in his age-40 season. His fastball, which was clocked in the 93-96 range regularly last year, is now usually in the low-90s. The pitcher who ha three 300-strikeout seasons and racked up more than 200 whiffs as recently as 2004 has struck out four or fewer batters in 13 of 23 starts this year, including six times in his last seven outings.

And the workhorse who pitched more than 250 innings in a season four times in a six-year span from 1997-2002 has pitched beyond the seventh inning just three times. Following a one-hit complete game against the Athletics June 7, Schilling allowed 12 runs in 9 1/3 innings over his next two starts, after which he went on the disabled list for more than six weeks with a sore shoulder.

Perhaps with that in mind, the Sox have given Schilling eight days off since his last start Sept. 16, when he pitched magnificently for 7 2/3 innings before he gave up a three-run homer to Derek Jeter that saddled him with a 4-1 loss.

That Schilling gave up the homer to Jeter—instead of escaping the inning with the tie intact—is another indicator of the challenges he faces in his twilight years. Schilling pitches with a reduced margin of error: He can't rear back and blow a hitter away any more, nor can he make a mistake with his signature split-finger pitch.

"I missed horribly in, probably, the most crucial situation of the game," Schilling said of the split-finger fastball he threw to Jeter. "That's not something I can do anymore. I can't overthrow the ball late in the game. I can't overthrow the fastball, much less my breaking stuff, in big spots. It's about executing pitchers.

"This is an incredibly painful way to have to learn a lesson that you already learned and you already know. But it's just reinforcement."

Schilling can only hope tonight's reinforcement is less painful. He remains an impressive pitcher even as he makes modifications for age. He's allowed three runs or less in five of his last seven starts. His command remains impeccable (he's walked just 23 in 145 innings and went to a three-ball count just twice in the first seven innings Sept. 16) and he would rank sixth in the majors in strikeout-to-walk ratio (4.13) if he had enough innings to qualify for the ERA title.

And despite pitching regularly in the hitter-heavy AL East—he's made 10 starts against division rivals—Schilling has a 3.97 ERA and 1.26 WHIP. Both figures are below the AL norm.

"I don't question whether I can be a really good pitcher and successful and win," Schilling said.

He just has to do it differently.


Diehard managing editor Jerry Beach can be reached at diehardmag@yahoo.com. To receive a free issue of Diehard, call 888-501-5752. To subscribe to Diehard or diehardmagazine.com, please CLICK HERE.

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