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.
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 Seat-tie 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 post-seasons 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 25/6 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.