There was a retractable roof overhead, the National League's youngest franchise on the field, a national chain restaurant in the upper deck in leftfield and a swimming pool behind the fence in right. Yet at times on Sunday night it seemed as if ultramodern Bank One Ballpark in Phoenix had been swept up by a tornado and carried back in time to an era when pitchers ruled the game. For the second time in five days righthanders Curt Schilling of the Arizona Diamondbacks and Matt Morris of the St. Louis Cardinals were filling the Bank One scoreboard with zeroes, matching each other virtually pitch for pitch and making hitters look helpless. In Game 1 of the National League Division Series, Schilling had beaten Morris 1-0 in a classic duel, and now they were bookending a taut series with another performance befitting the major leagues' only 22-game winners. Through 8� innings each had allowed a lone run.
"It was a hair-pulling, nail-biting, teeth-grinding experience," said Schilling, after Diamondbacks shortstop Tony Womack had singled in the winning run off reliever Steve Kline in the bottom of the ninth. The 2-1 win clinched the first League Championship Series berth in Arizona's four-year history and left the Diamondbacks drenching one another with champagne in the locker room. "When you win, it's exuberance. When you lose, it's devastating."
Devastating was the effect nearly every pitcher in the series had on the hitters. Schilling, Morris and friends didn't exactly send baseball back to the Dead Ball Era (the 447-foot rocket Arizona's Reggie Sanders launched into that upper-deck eatery in Game 5 was far from moribund), but they came close. The last time so few runs (22) were scored in a five-game postseason series was in 1981 (when the strike-shortened season forced two division playoffs in each league); the last time before that was in the World Series of 1915. The Cardinals were 2 for 33 (.061) with runners in scoring position and had consecutive hits only once in the series—harmless singles by Mark McGwire and Edgar Renteria in the sixth inning of Game 4. The Diamondbacks weren't much better in the clutch: 7 for 35 (.200) with runners in scoring position. Overall St. Louis batted .191, Arizona .237.
How high was the premium on runs? In Game 3 Cardinals manager Tony La Russa had his number 3 hitter, J.D. Drew, lay down a sacrifice bunt with a runner on second in the fourth inning of a scoreless game. In the ninth inning of Game 5, Diamondbacks manager Bob Brenly nearly short-circuited Arizona's series-winning rally by calling for a suicide squeeze from Womack with one out. The pitch was a nasty slider low and outside, Womack missed it, and pinch runner Midre Cummings was easily tagged out. "I knew Tony was going to get a hit," Diamondbacks first baseman Mark Grace said of Womack later, "so I was thinking, What is Brenly doing?"
Schilling inaugurated the offensive slowdown with his Game 1 gem, a three-hitter in which he struck out nine, walked one and pitched his second straight postseason shutout. (The first had been in the 1993 World Series, when he was with the Philadelphia Phillies.) Arizona traded for him in July 2000 in the hope that he would help lift the team into the playoffs last fall. Still not completely recovered from December 1999 surgery on his right shoulder, however, Schilling won only five of 11 decisions, and the Diamondbacks missed the postseason by nine games. He went to spring training this season convinced that he had let Arizona down in 2000 and determined to make up for it this year.
Schilling started by ratcheting up his already intense study of hitters. His laptop is loaded with video clips of every hitter he faces; he spent much of the nighttime flight from St. Louis to Phoenix between Games 4 and 5 doing what he calls "my computer work." He also keeps notes in a dog-eared spiral notebook, in which he'll occasionally scribble while sitting on the bench during his starts. "He's the most prepared pitcher I've ever played with," says Grace. "Nobody has a game plan and then executes it as well as Curt does."
As the season progressed, Schilling also made clear to his teammates how much he relishes being regarded as a big-game pitcher. In proving himself just that, he lightened the load on fellow starter Randy Johnson, who at times in his career has felt burdened by having the entire weight of a team's expectations on his shoulders. Johnson acknowledged during the Division Series that he'd had more fun this season than in years past. "I've got someone now who takes some of that responsibility off me," says Johnson, who pitched well (eight innings, three runs) in Game 2 but was still tagged with his seventh straight postseason loss, a 4-1 St. Louis victory. "I feel the responsibility of carrying the team in the postseason has been evenly divided."
Because Schilling did most of the heavy lifting against the Cardinals, Johnson, who was scheduled to start Game 1 against the Braves on Tuesday, must return the favor in the League Championship Series. After pitching on Sunday, Schilling wasn't to face Atlanta until Game 3 and would get a second start only if he comes back on short rest or the series goes seven games. That rotation also places pressure on 30-year-old righthander Miguel Batista, the Diamondbacks' third starter, who won Game 3 against St. Louis with a solid six-inning, three-run outing, and on the scuffling Arizona offense. Brenly used four cleanup hitters against the Cardinals—they went 4 for 21 with no RBIs—and third baseman Matt Williams didn't have a hit until he started Sunday's winning rally with a leadoff double. "Give a lot of credit to their pitchers," said Arizona leftfielder Luis Gonzalez, who went 5 for 19 with one homer and one RBI. "Every time we had runners on base, they made great pitches."
Sounds like a page from Schilling's well-worn notebook. In six postseason starts his ERA is 1.82, and his rep for being a big-game pitcher is beginning to rival those of Koufax, Gibson and Hershiser. "Those were the two best pitching performances I've ever seen," said an emotional Grace, who had never won a playoff series in his 14-year career. "I've been on two other teams that went to the playoffs. If we'd had Curt Schilling on those teams, we would have gone a lot further than we did."