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Diamondbacks Need Schilling to Be Money

October 03, 2002|Newsday

PHOENIX — He has the right arm and the right attitude for the job. More significantly, in the eyes of his teammates, Curt Schilling has the right stuff to square the National League division series when the Diamondbacks play host to the St. Louis Cardinals at Bank One Ballpark today.

To think otherwise would be to concede that the end is near.

"Curt is the best big-game pitcher of our era," Arizona first baseman Mark Grace said Wednesday. "If I had to stake my life on one pitcher in a big game, it would be him."

In effect, all the Diamondbacks are staking their baseball lives--or at least the defense of their world championship--on a man who won all four of his postseason decisions a year ago and, in the words of his manager, relishes the spotlight.

Randy Johnson, the left-handed half of baseball's most formidable pitching partnership, provided Schilling with little margin for error when he was hammered by the Cardinals on Tuesday night. Johnson lasted six innings and was battered for a season-high 10 hits, including two homers, a triple and a double in a 12-2 loss.

Under the circumstances, the best possible scenario for Arizona is to win today and take a 1-1 split to St. Louis, where the series resumes Saturday. That's how the series unfolded a year ago and the Diamondbacks emerged from the first round of the playoffs on a ninth-inning single by Tony Womack in Game 5.

"To go out of here down 2-0," Schilling decided with profound understatement, "would not be conducive to us getting to the next round."

Indeed, it would not. Although St. Louis pitching coach Dave Duncan declared that Arizona's third-game starter, Miguel Batista, is "no day at the beach," it's no secret that the Diamondbacks rely heavily on the front end of their rotation. Johnson and Schilling's postseason records were a combined 9-1 last fall; the rest of the staff was 2-5. Whereas the Big Two were 47-12 during the regular season this year, none of the other starters had a winning record. Batista finished 8-9.

The Cardinals know full well what Schilling can do. He beat them twice in the postseason last year, yielding one run in 18 innings. Still, his career record against St. Louis in the regular season is a subpar 5-9, and that includes two defeats in as many decisions this season. Just last week, Scott Rolen and J.D. Drew hit three-run homers in a 6-1 victory over Schilling at Busch Stadium. It was the last of several uncharacteristic outings that probably cost him the Cy Young Award, likely to be won for the fourth consecutive season by Johnson.

Nothing less than Schilling's best may do against the Cardinals. "It's probably as good a lineup as I'll ever face, top to bottom," Schilling said.

Arizona will face left-hander Chuck Finley, who won seven of 11 decisions after the Cardinals acquired him from the Indians in mid-summer. His goal is to keep his team in the game.

Schilling has grander designs. "We've got to go out and play a flawless game," he said. "Mediocre performances are not optional at this time of the year."

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