The pain hit Arizona Diamondbacks righthander Curt Schilling in
his room at the Atlanta Marriott Marquis in the first hour of
Saturday, arriving, as he knew it would, with the subtlety of a
cinder block. A few hours earlier Schilling had thrown an almost
unheard-of third straight complete game in the postseason. He
hurt too much to sleep, having cranked out 350 pitches over 27
innings in 11 days. His right arm, however, wasn't what ached.
The familiar, dull postgame throb in that limb was still hours
away. It was his head that hurt.
This is what tossing a four-hitter in the pivotal third game of
the National League Championship Series gives you: a whopper of a
headache. The regular season throws 34 pop quizzes at a starting
pitcher. Each postseason start is a three-hour final exam. "You
invest so much mentally before and during the game," Schilling
said last Saturday afternoon, "that it takes a while to wind
down. Here's an example of how it's different. During the regular
season, if a guy is on second base and no outs, I try for a
strikeout or a pop-up. But if somebody's hitting who I know is
hard to strike out or pop up, like Tony Gwynn, I'll concede the
runner's going to third and just get an out. In the postseason
you concede nothing. You do everything in your power to keep the
runner where he is. You have to have the approach that every
base, every run, is huge."
Schilling took pain relievers for his headache. He talked with
his wife, Shonda, until she fell asleep. He reviewed nearly all
his 128 pitches in his mind, dwelling longer on the mistakes,
though he'd had few of those while striking out 12 Atlanta Braves
in the 5-1 victory. He watched television, surfed the Web and
noodled with PlayStation. It was nearly six in the morning by the
time he finally fell asleep, in a long-sleeved shirt with the
heat on, the better to soothe his arm. "The older you get, the
warmer the room gets," he would say that afternoon.
Two nights after Schilling, 34, had pitched his gem, his
38-year-old running mate, lefthander Randy Johnson, closed out
the series with a 3-2 triumph in Game 5. Mentally and physically
spent, Johnson departed after seven innings and 118 pitches; he
had thrown more pitches than that 15 times in the 2001 regular
season. "I'd always wondered what it took to get to the World
Series," Johnson said.
October 29, 2001
Now he knows. The 2001 postseason listed the key ingredients in
boldface: pitching and ibuprofen. Pitching is the reason the
Diamondbacks reached the World Series, which will begin on
Saturday night at Phoenix's Bank One Ballpark, in only their
fourth year of existence. Pitching was also the reason that the
New York Yankees reached their 38th Fall Classic after disposing
of the Seattle Mariners with a 12-3 win on Monday in Game 5 of
the American League Championship Series.
So precious have runs been in this postseason that three have
been enough to win 21 of the 28 games going into the World
Series. Scoring (7.07 runs per game) is down 26% from the regular
season--that would be expected, without fifth starters, middle
relievers or the Texas Rangers' staff coming into play--but also
down 15% from the 2000 postseason.
The League Championship Series, in particular, showcased the
value of battle-tested pitchers. Only one of the 13 active home
run champions, Arizona third baseman Matt Williams, played in
either the American League or the National League series.
However, the series included five pitchers who have accounted
for 15 of the 20 Cy Young Awards won by active pitchers: Johnson
(three awards), Yankees righthander Roger Clemens (five) and
Braves lefty Tom Glavine (two)--all of whom started games played
simultaneously on Sunday--as well as Atlanta righties Greg
Maddux (four) and John Smoltz (one). Only one starting pitcher
younger than 32 won a game: New York's 29-year-old lefty Andy
Pettitte, a veteran of 22 postseason starts.
"I love it," said Braves pitching coach Leo Mazzone before Game 4
in the National League. "This whole decade has been bombs away.
Well, the bombs-away teams aren't here. They're watching. The
games are tight. That's why you see people jumping up and
shouting if they don't get a call. It shows you how important
every call is, how important each pitch is."
The Yankees hold the patent on winning this kind of October game.
After Monday night's Game 5, they were 53-18 in six postseasons
under manager Joe Torre, though they'd failed to score more than
four runs in 40 of those 71 games. In their first three wins,
they beat Seattle with scores straight out of the World Cup: 4-2,
3-2 and 3-1.
They win with a formulaic sameness: high quality starting
pitching and enough runs to build a lead for righthanded closer
Mariano Rivera. Starters Clemens, Pettitte and righty Mike
Mussina combined to allow the Mariners six runs in 251/3 innings
in the New York victories. Torre's Yankees are nearly impossible
to beat late. They have lost only one postseason game in which
they led after six innings. Their bullpen is unbeaten (9-0) over
46 consecutive postseason games.
Pettitte, the brim of his cap tugged low on his head--October
chic--shackled Seattle in the series opener at Safeco Field,
holding the major leagues' highest-scoring team in the regular
season (5.72 runs per game) to one run in eight innings while
going to three-ball counts to only three of the 26 batters he
faced. "Andy had that playoff look, that tunnel vision," New
York pitching coach Mel Stottlemyre said.
Said Pettitte, "It's our job to concentrate as hard as we can
every time we pitch. But we're human. The playoffs are
different, with the crowds, the adrenaline and everything that's
on the line. If you concentrated 35 times during the regular
season the way you do in the playoffs, I don't think that you'd
make it through the year. You'd burn out."
Mussina, 32, added another gem in the Yankees' 3-2 Game 2
victory. The Mariners scored only on a fourth-inning, two-run
homer by Stan Javier on a rare Mussina mistake, a changeup he
left up and over the plate. As in Game 1, Rivera finished up,
only this time with what Stottlemyre called "the best cutter I've
ever seen from him. I've never seen his ball jump like that."
Rivera needed only 17 pitches to nail down the final five
outs--three strikeouts and two groundouts. His cut fastball
moved so much it resembled a 93-mph curveball. "I can't control
it," Rivera said after the game about the break on his pitches.
"I let it go and trust it. Today, whoa! I couldn't believe the
break on it today."
Seattle avoided Rivera in Game 3 with a 14-3 win at Yankee
Stadium, scoring more runs than any other foe in New York's
286-game postseason history. While the Yankees' starter, righty
Orlando Hernandez, didn't make it out of a seven-run Mariners
sixth, 38-year-old Seattle lefthander Jamie Moyer bedazzled the
New York hitters over seven innings for his third victory of the
postseason. In Game 4 the next night, just when it appeared the
Mariners had dented the New York bullpen--a home run by second
baseman Bret Boone off righty Ramiro Mendoza broke an
excruciatingly tense scoreless tie in the eighth--the Yankees
rallied to win yet another October close call. Centerfielder
Bernie Williams tied the game in the bottom of the eighth with a
home run. Then, after Rivera set down Seattle on three pitches
in the top of the ninth, rookie second baseman Alfonso Soriano
won the game in the bottom of the ninth with a two-run dinger
that bounded off the steps in front of the right centerfield
Word of Soriano's dramatic home run reached the Diamondbacks as
they were celebrating their series clincher at Atlanta's Turner
Field. "A lot of guys on this team haven't played at Yankee
Stadium, like Mark Grace," said Johnson, anticipating a matchup
with New York. "He's going to see baseball heaven."
Arizona won the National League West largely on the strength of
Johnson and Schilling--the Diamondbacks were 51-18 when that pair
started and 41-52 in games started by all others--and October has
been no different. Johnson and Schilling are 5-1 with a 1.24 ERA
and have thrown 51 of Arizona's 89 postseason innings (57%). The
rest of the staff is 2-2 with a 4.74 ERA.
Arizona's winning formula is a venerable one, used, for instance,
by the 1987 Minnesota Twins and the '88 Los Angeles Dodgers, who
each proved that two dominating starting pitchers are enough to
win a world championship. Frank Viola and Bert Blyleven were 6-2
for those Twins (the rest of the staff was 2-2) while throwing
55% of Minnesota's postseason innings. Orel Hershiser and Tim
Belcher were 6-0 for those Dodgers (their teammates were 2-4)
while accounting for 61% of L.A.'s innings.
"If you're going to get to Arizona, you'd better get to Johnson
and Schilling," said Braves hitting coach Merv Rettenmund on
Sunday. "The Diamondbacks have a good club, and I don't want to
take anything from all their guys, but let's be honest: They win
on the strength of two guys. If they lose Game 1 of the World
Series behind Schilling, they're done. It's that simple."
Arizona won all three Championship Series games started by
Johnson and Schilling and stole another, 11-4, in Game 4,
courtesy of four Atlanta errors, which led to six unearned runs.
The Braves lost that game despite handing Maddux a 2-0 lead.
"There are times when you have to shut somebody out," said
Maddux, who fell to 10-13 in the postseason. "Glavine did it,
Schilling did it, and Randy Johnson did it. I didn't do it. It
was a game we needed. Give them credit. They outpitched us."
Said Arizona leftfielder Luis Gonzalez, who blasted a crowning
three-run home run off righty reliever Jason Marquis in the ninth
inning, "Even when we were down 2-0, we felt we could get to
Maddux. We've hit him pretty well the last three or four times,
so we were confident we could peck away."
By contrast, when the Diamondbacks gave Schilling a 2-0 lead in
the third inning of Game 3, thanks to a two-run double by
centerfielder Steve Finley, it might as well have been 20-0.
"When he hit the double, I thought, O.K., now the destiny of this
game is in my hands," Schilling said. "That's right where I
wanted it to be."
Schilling has become his own Rivera. He closed his 5-1 victory
by striking out four of the final five hitters while
blowtorching 96-mph fastballs. He joined Luis Tiant (Boston Red
Sox, 1975) and Hershiser in '88 as the only pitchers to have
thrown three consecutive complete games in the same postseason
since league playoffs began in '69. "The bigger the game the
better," Schilling said. "I'm an adrenaline junkie. I feed off
big crowds and noise."
He also relies on detailed information about hitters, which he
keeps on a laptop or in handwritten notes in a dog-eared spiral
notebook. He, and not the Arizona coaches, decides where
fielders should be stationed for each hitter. "Curt probably
takes too much out to the mound with him," Johnson says. "He's a
little too anal, whereas I rely more on my experience. You can
have all the information you want, but it still comes down to
Johnson needed to tap the last fumes in his fuel reserve in Game
5. The Braves rallied for a run in the seventh, cutting the
Diamondbacks' lead to 3-2, and filled the bases for rightfielder
Brian Jordan, Atlanta's best clutch hitter over the last month.
With his 35th pitch of the inning, Johnson whiffed Jordan on an
88-mph slider near the shoe tops. "I was mentally spent walking
off the mound," Johnson said.
Arizona manager Bob Brenly didn't push Johnson any further. He
turned the game over to 22-year-old righty closer Byung-Hyun Kim,
who threw two hitless innings to finish off Atlanta. Johnson
didn't protest Brenly's hook. He merely folded his weary frame
onto the dugout bench. He was triumphant but drained, the sapping
of his emotional energy apparent on his wan face. It was the look
of baseball in October.
"The bigger the game the better," said Schilling after Game 3.
"I feed off big crowds and noise."
"If you concentrated during the regular season the way you do in
the playoffs, I don't think you'd make it through the year."
"I thought, O.K., now the destiny of this game is in my hands,"
Schilling said. "That's right where I wanted it to be."