14 April 2005

Curt Schilling: Greatest American Ego

Sometimes life just isn't fair.

For example, despite being as big a baseball fan as I think I am, I had not yet had an opportunity to watch an actual baseball game yet this year. Even Opening Night, with my Yankees playing against the "World Champion Boston Red Sox" (my Spell Checker keeps trying to tell me that's a typo...), somehow I managed to miss. Something about hanging out with friends, I think. And then last night, with the same two teams playing on a channel I could actually watch (ESPN2), I was looking forward to getting home on time to see the start of the game, but work kept me at the office until nearly 7PM, so I had no choice but to only listen to and/or miss the first three innings or so as I drove the 45 minutes home and then made dinner. All of this while other people, not nearly the informed, intelligent and good-looking baseball fans that I am (though perhaps with more hair) get to watch games whenever the heck they feel like it.

But my lot was not so bad as some. Curt Schilling, for example, Red Sox Ace and Greatest PostSeason Hero He Can Remember, finally made his 2005 debut last night. Schilling, you may recall, was last seen in public bleeding profusely from a festering shrapnel wound in his leg, firing shots into enemy territory in a apparently doomed effort to keep the bad guys at bay, all the while trying not to drown in a pool of his own blood, which is generally considered a pretty nasty way to go. The advancing enemy onslaught always seemed just moments away from engulfing Schilling and his comrades, oozing ankle wound and all, but in an act of heroism not seen since the Greatest Generation stormed the beaches at Normandy, or maybe Jim Brown in the Dirty Dozen, Curt kept firing until he could fire no more...

...and then was lifted for a relief pitcher. OK, so maybe Normandy still has a bit more nobility associated with it, but you sure couldn't tell from listening to Schilling talk about himself, could you?

Curt Pitching Posted by Hello

Anywho, Schilling's long-awaited return finally occurred last night, and at least the Yankee radio announcers seemed to think that he was surprisingly sharp considering the long layoff. Through the first four innings, he had thrown 53 of 68 pitches for strikes, and though he was "only" hitting 91 on the radar gun, he had given up only three hits and no walks in that span. Then, in the fifth inning, he gave up a dribbler to the secondbaseman, who despite the Giambi Shift, somehow screwed up a routine ground ball so badly that he couldn't even throw out lead-footed Jason. Then Tino Martinez hit an automatic double to right-center field, and Tony Womack walked.

Let me say that again: Tony Womack, who walks only slighlty more often than Stephen Hawking, took a base on balls. When a pitcher who never gives up walks gives up a walk to a guy who never takes walks, it's called a "bad sign", you know? C'mon people, this isn't Quantum Physics. Oh, sorry Dr. Hawking.

So maybe Terry Francona should have had Mike Timlin getting ready at this point, but we all know what a tough guy Schilling is, so even if Timlin had been warm, they might have needed the Jaws of Life to pry Curt off the mound. Unfortunately for Curt and for Boston, they left him in, and Derek Jeter singled in a run, keeping the bases loaded with only one out. Gary Sheffield lofted a fly just deep enough to center field to sacrifice in a run, tying the game. A strikeout to Hideki Matsui ended the inning.

Upon reflection, even though he threw only 14 of 25 pitches for strikes in the fifth inning, Schilling wasn't really hit all that hard. He gave up a ground rule double and a bloop single, but Giambi's hit should have been an out and Sheffield's RBI actually was an out, so if it weren't for fluke infield single by Giambi, Curt might have gotten out of the inning unscathed. As it was, he was scathed twice, and now was pitching in a tie game.

Whether Francona should have yanked him after the walk to Womack or not is debatable, I'm sure, but it would seem that after laboring through the fifth inning, and now having thrown 93 pitches (at 5 MPH or so below his usual level) and not very far removed from a five and a half-month layoff, it seems like a 5-inning, 2-run, 93-pitch performance was a pretty reasonable expectation for this outing, and it might have been the wisest decision to send Schilling to the showers before the start of the sixth.

Alas, this was not to be, and Curt returned to the game in the 6th, proving even less effective than he had been in the 5th, and giving up three more runs, this time on homers from Jason Giambi and Bernie Williams. On the plus side, he did throw 9 of 13 pitches for strikes, but that hardly consoles a 5-2 deficit you won't have the opportunity to right.

The reason I bring up "fairness" is not that there was some debate as to whether or not one of the hits dropped inside or outside a foul line, but because this same night, Yankee pitcher Jaret Wright received much better than he deserved, in my opinion. Through the first four innings, he had allowed two singles, two doubles and four walks while throwing only half of his 78 pitches for strikes. Not many pitchers survive long allowing two baserunners per inning, and yet Wright somehow managed to give up only one run through that span. The third inning proved particularly brutal as he managed only 12-of-35 pitches for strikes, with a double and three walks but only one run on a sac fly by Big Papi.

Wright Posted by Hello

Unfortunately, this was the first inning I actually got to watch, and even I could see that his arm was in front of his body, causing him to rush his delivery and not follow through properly, leaving his pitches either way up or way down and out of the strike zone. Even though 9 of his last 11 pitches had been out of the strike zone, Edgar Renteria inexplicably swung and grounded out, though it did take a very nice play by Gold Glove Shortstop Derek Jeter (No Spell Check, not this one either...) to end the third. Yankee pitching coach Mel Stottlemyre must have given him a good lecture or something during the top of the fourth, because he came back and retired the Red Sox much more easily in his half of the inning, throwing 11 of 15 pitches for strikes and whiffing two while allowing only a single to Jason Varitek. Even the leadoff homer by Trot Nixon (apparently Wright got tired of walking him) in the fifth didn't seem to rattle him, as he got through the inning relatively easily.

And so, despite allowing 11 baserunners in only five innings, with two strikeouts, Jaret Wright picked up his first win as a Yankee. Somehow, on a night when Wright was wrong, the rest of the Yankees picked up his slack.

And despite pitching much better for the same five innings, Schilling lost because his manager didn't know when to say "when" and left him in too long in his first start of the year. A healthy, 23-year old may be able to hurl consecutive, ~100 to 115-pitch shutouts to start the year after a normal Spring Training experiance, but maybe a 38-year old recovering from surgery might be better handled with "kid gloves." Wouldn't hurt him to learn a little humility either, you know?

Even if he is the Greatest American Hero. No wait, that's someone else.

Greatest American Ego Posted by Hello

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