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Playoff success defines Schilling.

Byline: Bill Ballou

COLUMN: BILL BALLOU

BOSTON - Although he has spent most of his career in the National League, it seems like Curt Schilling has been with the Red Sox forever.

He signed with them as a teenager back when Lou Gorman was still a fairly new hire as Boston's general manager. Schilling played for Dick Berardino in Elmira and in Greensboro, and in the years when the Sox did spring training in Winter Haven, his locker was next to John Sanderski, the Oxford native who pitched in the Sox farm system before arm problems ended his career.

Schilling's first year in the Boston organization was 1986. He didn't actually wear a Boston uniform until 2004, and it could be that his start here on Saturday night was the last time he wore that uniform, depending on last night's outcome.

Who would take a $13 million chance on Schilling with the way he threw the ball on Saturday night? His lack of velocity was frightening, but in contrast, his ability to somehow get major league hitters out with little more than willpower was impressive. That may be, more than anything, the legacy of Schilling's career with the Red Sox - his willpower.

Really, he had just one great season in Boston. That was 2004 when he went 21-6 and threw 226-2/3 innings. In 2005, after ankle surgery, he was mostly ineffective. In '06, he went 15-7 but still was not the dominant force he had been. This year, Schilling finally evolved into something between a No. 3 and No. 4 starter.

Still, his name pops up in talk about the Hall of Fame - the one in Cooperstown, not the Red Sox Hall of Fame - and at best he is probably a borderline candidate. Even Boston manager Terry Francona, when asked early in the playoffs if he thought Schilling was Hall of Fame caliber, hesitated to come right out say he was, qualifying his response with "I haven't looked at all the numbers."

What will propel Schilling over the top, if he does wind up with a plaque along the banks of the Susquehanna River, is his remarkable record in postseason play. He is 10-2, the 10th win coming on Saturday night. He has won when he should not have won, like on Saturday night when he had an old man's fastball, and like in the 2004 ALCS and 2004 World Series, pitching on a bionic ankle.

Schilling may wind up being one of those players whose regular-season achievements, while excellent, become magnified by postseason success. And there is nothing wrong with that. The name of the place is the Hall of Fame, after all, not the Hall of Skill, and they are two different qualities.

Not that he is a Hall of Fame player, but Bernie Carbo is larger than life in Red Sox history because of one swing of the bat in one World Series game in 1975. Keith Foulke had a nice, little, big-league career, and the Red Sox wound up paying him three years' worth of salary for one good season, but that one great postseason in '04 turned him into an icon.

Mark Bellhorn, for all of his strikeouts, is recalled for his clutch home runs in New York in the 2004 ALCS, and at Fenway Park in Game 1 of the World Series. Fans old enough to remember Gary Waslewski, mostly a Triple-A pitcher, think of what he did during the 1967 World Series.

And no Red Sox player ever had a worse career in the regular season, and a better career in the postseason, than Dave Henderson, the savior of the 1986 season.

With his own personal Web site, with a personality that seems to compel him to seek attention - after he was hit hard in Game 2 here, Schilling arrived uninvited at the postgame press conference - the pitcher has at times made himself hard to like.

When the Sox went out and got him, though, in the months before the start of the 2004 regular season, it was for one reason - to help Boston win a World Series. The move worked. Schilling did it, and his place in Red Sox history is assured. Where that place is in baseball history overall, that's a different story, and one probably not yet finished.

But probably finished in Boston, depending on the outcome of last night's Game 7.

NAME: BOSTON RED SOX

ART: PHOTOS

CUTLINE: (1) Fans watch a double by Boston's Jason Varitek bounce off the left-field wall in the second inning. (2) Top, Boston's Kevin Youkilis is congratulated after scoring in the third inning; (3) Above, Dustin Pedroia scores on a single by Manny Ramirez in the first inning.

PHOTOG: ASSOCIATED PRESS PHOTOS
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Title Annotation:SPORTS
Publication:Telegram & Gazette (Worcester, MA)
Date:Oct 22, 2007
Words:789
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