Schilling took precisely the opposite view. "If you're downplaying this as just another game, you're denying reality," he said before the opener. "I don't want it to be just another game. I want it to be something bigger. I thrive on that. I've never been a part of it, and it's something I've looked forward to."
A renowned preparation freak, Schilling sat at his locker on Friday as if cramming for a test, studying a chart of how Yankees hitters fare against certain pitches in certain counts and occasionally marking it with neon highlighters. In previous days he had watched video of Tampa Bay righthander Victor Zambrano's two-hit, five-inning performance against them earlier this month. "The only guys I really don't know on the Yankees are [Hideki] Matsui and A-Rod," Schilling says. "I did face A-Rod once before, in the  All-Star Game." (He struck him out on three straight fastballs.)
Schilling chewed up Rodriguez again on Saturday: a harmless fly and two punch-outs that contributed to Rodriguez's 1-for-17 weekend. Schilling, with a heater that hit 96 mph, struck out eight batters and allowed one run before he saw manager Terry Francona signal to the bullpen with one out in the seventh. Schilling spit out one of those sidewalk epithets of his own because he didn't want to leave this theater of the absurd.
Finally, tugging a bit on the bill of his cap in thanks, Schilling slipped into the dugout just as he had emerged from it hours earlier: with applause and shouts—the noise of East Coast baseball—washing over him in an antique font of a ballpark. The madness had only just begun.