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Boston stranglehold

Schilling's genius, Lowell's hustle, Rockies' struggles

Posted: Friday October 26, 2007 2:12AM; Updated: Friday October 26, 2007 1:04PM
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Curt Schilling is 6-1 with a 3.28 ERA in eight postseason starts with the Red Sox.
Curt Schilling is 6-1 with a 3.28 ERA in eight postseason starts with the Red Sox.
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BOSTON -- My five cuts following Game 2 of the World Series:

1. Curt Schilling stood in a narrow hallway outside the Boston clubhouse after Game 2, his carry-on bag packed for Denver beside him. Consider it a stop-over on his way to Cooperstown. Weeks short of his 41st birthday, Schilling moved closer to the Hall of Fame with yet another postseason victory, part of a superlative October résumé that enhances the 215 wins in his regular-season career. Only Kenny Rogers of the 2006 Tigers ever won a World Series game at a more advanced age, though in this one there was no evidence of a foreign substance on Schilling's pitching hand.

"I'm definitely more nervous now at this stage in my career," Schilling said. "I think it's because I know things are winding down and now I look around and enjoy so many things around me, like watching Josh [Beckett] and [Hideki] Okajima. It's fun. When I was young, it was just getting myself ready 24/7. Now I'm enjoying what I'm getting to see."

Schilling is the only man to win World Series games in his 20s, 30s and 40s. He is 11-2 with a 1.68 ERA in the postseason, including nail-biting wins by the scores of 2-0, 1-0, 2-1, 4-2 and 2-1. He has faced 525 batters in the postseason and walked only 25 of them -- one of every 21 hitters -- with almost five times as many strikeouts as walks. Fourteen years ago he threw 147 pitches to shut out Toronto in the World Series for Philadelphia. "I think I was still feeling it tonight," he joked. That night he threw the world's straightest fastball, but it had so much octane, such a fierce downward plane and such laser-guided accuracy that no one could square it up. Fourteen years later Schilling was throwing around 89 mph, but painting the corners with regularity, taking every inch that umpire Laz Diaz would give. He threw 65 fewer pitches in his latest World Series win than in his first, but in its own way it was masterful. There have been 124 starters in the postseason history of Fenway Park. Only five of them ever won with no more than two runs. Three of them did so way back in the deadball era: Rube Marquard and Hugh Bedient in the 1912 World Series, when Fenway first opened, and Carl Mays in the 1918 Fall Classic. Then the great Bob Gibson did it in the 1967 World Series. And now Schilling has joined them in a hitter's era in a hitter's park, and far from the prime of his career.

Nearing 41, pitching against a flamethrower nearly half his age, Schilling won a pitcher's duel at Fenway in the World Series. It was a game to remember, including when his name appears on a Hall of Fame ballot.

2. I hit Boston manager Terry Francona with this question after Game 2: What was the biggest play of the game?

"Mikey Lowell getting to third base?" he said, like a student suddenly called upon by the teacher.

"OK, good, you get to keep your job," I told him.

Of course, it was obvious that Lowell made the biggest difference in the game by capitalizing on an awful play by Colorado right fielder Brad Hawpe in the fourth inning.

Lowell was on first base with one out when J.D. Drew lined a single to the right of Hawpe. Lowell cut his stride while nearing second base, but when he saw Hawpe retreat on the ball rather than playing it aggressively, Lowell shifted gears and raced to third, just beating Hawpe's throw to get the tying run to third with one out. It paid off when Jason Varitek knocked Lowell in with a flyball.

"That made my night,'' Francona said of Lowell's play. "Well, a lot of other things did, too, but that was special. A lot of guys just pull up there into second base. Mikey saw the opening and took it. That's the ballgame right there."

Asked to explain the play, Hawpe said, "I thought [Drew] hit a line drive with a lot of hook to the right but [instead] it faded more toward center."

The Rockies made a reputation with their defense, but Hawpe's lapse was costly.

3. The Rockies are the first team in history to play two consecutive postseason games at Fenway Park without scoring more than one run in either game. Yes, the Boston pitchers have been superb. As Hawpe said, "Every at-bat, it's 0-1. They're not nibbling. And they're living on the corners."

Said Ryan Spilborghs, "Those guys aren't throwing anything down the middle of the plate."

OK, fine. But look at that Colorado lineup. The 8-9-1-2 hitters are batting .040: 1 for 25. What that means is the opposing pitcher gets every third inning off. Leadoff man Willy Taveras is close to an automatic out, with one hit in his past 20 at-bats. He has no business getting an extra plate appearance each game by hitting at the top of the lineup. Manager Clint Hurdle should go back to his NLDS order with Kaz Matsui and Troy Tulowitzki at the top.

And why is Spilborghs DHing against two tough right-handers instead of left-handers Cory Sullivan or Seth Smith? Spilborghs rewarded Hurdle with the worst night by a DH in World Series history in Game 2: three plate appearances, three strikeouts, all of them looking. "I was just looking for a pitch to hit that has more of the plate," he explained. Spilborghs became only the fifth DH to fan three times in a World Series game, but the first to do so in all of his plate appearances.

4. Stop me if you've heard this one before: The Red Sox wore out the opposing starter. Night after night Boston hitters win a war of attrition by making the opposing starter get deep into counts. The Sox have turned the foul ball into a weapon.

Even with a six-pitch first inning, Colorado starter Ubaldo Jimenez couldn't get 15 outs with his 91 pitches. He needed 72 pitches to get his final eight outs before he left in the fifth.

Here are the casualty statistics from Boston's relentless attack through 12 postseason games:

• Opposing starters have averaged only 4 2/3 innings with a 7.21 ERA.

• Opposing starters have needed an average of 19.1 pitches per inning.

• Only one starter (Jake Westbrook) lasted more than six innings and none made it through seven.

• Eight of the 11 starters lasted only five innings or less.

• The Red Sox have drawn 62 walks, their opponents only 24.

5. Don't write off the Rockies just yet. Expect a better, more confident team to show up at home this weekend at Coors Field, and maybe starting pitchers Josh Fogg and Aaron Cook can pitch like Paul Byrd and Westbrook did against Boston -- getting ahead in counts and running enough pitches in on the hands of Boston's hitters to keep them honest.

Also, the Red Sox are not suited for Coors Field or NL rules. They will lose at least one big bat out of their lineup, with a pitcher having to take the at-bats that would go to Kevin Youkilis, David Ortiz or Lowell. And if Francona plays Ortiz at first and Youkilis at third, he will have two infielders playing out of position and a left fielder, Manny Ramirez, whose shaky defense could be exposed in the vast Coors outfield.

It's hard to imagine anybody beating Josh Beckett, Boston's Game 5 pitcher if we get that far, but Colorado has a decent chance of turning this into a real series over the next two games.

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