The ace starting pitcher will be remembered as the ultimate closer. Lips flapping, fist pumping and ankle bleeding, Curt Schilling, self-appointed ghostbuster, made certain that his first season in Boston was the last time the Curse of the Bambino and the year 1918 would hold any relevance.
"He did everything we hoped he would do and more," says Red Sox general manager Theo Epstein, who swiped Schilling from the Diamondbacks last year in a cunning trade that, as immediate impact goes, will be remembered as one of the best ever.
Schilling became the first pitcher in baseball history who, in his first season after changing teams, led the majors in victories (21) and won a World Series game that helped deliver a championship. In 36 regular-season and postseason starts Schilling was 24-7 with a 3.28 ERA, including an 11-1 record after Aug. 9, losing only while pitching with an unsecured tendon flapping over his ankle bone in the ALCS opener against the Yankees.
For his unprecedented impact, especially when it mattered most, Schilling is SI's Player of the Year. A baseball season's legacy is determined in October. This was the year of the Red Sox and the red sock. Schilling, in his own bloody good way, will be as associated with 2004 as Sandy Koufax is with 1963, Orel Hershiser with '88 and Jack Morris with '91.
As Boston became the first team to reel off eight straight postseason victories, Schilling won an elimination game at Yankee Stadium (ALCS Game 6) and beat the Cardinals, the NL's highest-scoring team, at Fenway Park in Game 2 of the World Series. In so doing he allowed only one earned run in 13 innings while pitching on a wobbly, bloody ankle, jerry-rigged by an experimental suturing procedure that could not have withstood another start.
"I was not going to pitch Game 6 [of the Series]," Schilling told SI last Friday. "I could not do it. I had lost too much strength in the ankle and was unable to get any push-off even just walking around. I had no maneuverability. It was too unstable."
Moreover, the Red Sox' doctors had decided that the sheath to which the tendon had been sutured could not have withstood another such procedure. If Schilling had even tried to pitch again, he would have had to do so without the tendon secured, as he did in ALCS Game 1.
Schilling was scheduled to undergo ankle surgery on Tuesday, followed by six weeks of rest and six weeks of rehabilitation. He is not expected to be at full strength for the start of spring training, though he is expected to be ready for Opening Day.
It was almost a year ago, on Nov. 28, that Epstein shocked the baseball world--especially the Yankees--by hammering out the deal that sent pitchers Casey Fossum, Brandon Lyon and Jorge de la Rosa and outfielder Michael Goss to Arizona for Schilling. The 37-year-old righthander quickly endeared himself to Fenway fans with his obvious delight in playing the hired gun. He went 3-1 in the postseason.
"I'm not afraid to be out there when everybody is watching," he says. "That's when you find out about people. Do I have an ego? Absolutely. I don't think there's anyone on the planet better than me in a game that matters."