Relishing the role
Schilling, Morris face off in matchup of 22-game winners
PHOENIX (AP) -- This is the moment Curt Schilling craved when he came to Arizona 15 months ago, a chance to pitch in the postseason again, a spot on center stage when it matters most.
Schilling and Morris each won 22 games, tied for the most in the majors.
"This is the time of year when you make a name for yourself in sports," Schilling said. "As a pitcher, I try to feed on that. It's crunch time."
The 34-year-old right-hander will make a postseason appearance for the first time since he helped Philadelphia get to the World Series in 1993. He was MVP of the NLCS that season.
"I'm very comfortable in the task I've been given," he said. "I feel like I'm going to be prepared. The first time I had no idea what to expect."
Schilling (22-6, 2.98 ERA, 293 strikeouts) is the first half of a 1-2 pitching punch that could propel the Diamondbacks to the World Series. Randy Johnson (21-6, 2.49 ERA, 372 strikeouts) goes against Woody Williams (15-9) in Game 2 on Wednesday.
"Those guys, they're every bit as good as they say they are," St. Louis manager Tony La Russa said, "but we send a lot of weapons to the plate. We have a lot of ways to score runs."
Williams lost twice to Arizona when he was with San Diego but is 7-1 with a 2.28 ERA since he was traded to the Cardinals.
"With all due respect to Arizona and their two guys," La Russa said, "I don't concede anything as far as an edge in the starting rotation whatsoever."
Schilling had the best season of his career. Morris (22-8, 3.16 ERA) missed the 1999 season while recovering from "Tommy John" elbow surgery, had never won more than 12 games before this season.
"The Diamondbacks are going to face somebody like Curt who's younger," La Russa said of his 27-year-old right-hander.
Arizona manager Bob Brenly said the Game 1 matchup features "two tremendously competitive pitchers on top of their game."
"I would imagine it should be a very low-scoring game and every baserunner becomes vitally important," Brenly said.
Morris doesn't mind that his big season has been overshadowed by the attention given to Schilling and Johnson.
"These guys are going to be under the microscope," Morris said before the Cardinals worked out Monday at Bank One Ballpark. "They're two workhorses that are going to go out there and try to put up zeros, but again I can slip in there and do the same thing. If I go out there and execute my pitches, we have a good chance to win."
"It's a tough call," La Russa said. "Everybody knows what Mark is capable of doing and what Paquette has come in and given us. But it's a can't lose situation, whatever way we go we're going to have a real good lineup to go up there."
The teams haven't faced each other since April 18, so St. Louis' 4-2 victory in the season series is virtually meaningless. Schilling hasn't faced the Cardinals at all. Morris lost to Arizona 2-1.
Both teams played well down the stretch, although the Cardinals lost their last two at home against Houston, defeats that deprived St. Louis of the NL Central title and sent them to Arizona as the wild-card representative.
St. Louis' offense is as threatening as any in the league.
"They can poke the ball a little bit," Schilling said. "The top of that lineup looks like an American League club rather than a National League club. The one guy I haven't faced is Albert Pujols. That's the one guy I'm trying to make sure I'm well aware of how and when I want to do tomorrow."
Arizona won eight of nine to clinch the NL West title last Saturday.
"We have a lot of confidence in the way we've played the last couple of weeks of the season," Luis Gonzalez. "We felt we were peaking at the right time. Plus we have two number one guys in our rotation in a short series."
Schilling and Johnson could come back on short rest in a dire emergency.
"They have a bunch of guys over there that we know swing the bat very well. That's why we like this matchup," Gonzalez said. "We have two premiere pitchers in baseball on our side, and good pitching usually neutralizes good hitting."
La Russa is bringing a team to the postseason for the ninth time. Brenly was in the broadcast booth a year ago. All of which means nothing, Arizona's Mark Grace said.
"Players will decide who wins and loses this," he said.