The blood of Curt Schilling and the guts of his Boston Red Sox teammates have sent the American League Championship Series to an epic Game Seven showdown.
The Sox completed an historic three-game winning streak with Tuesday's 4-2 victory over the New York Yankees that made them the first team to pull even in a best-of-seven series after falling behind, 3-0. Tonight, they can complete the mother of all comebacks.
It's Game Seven in the Bronx. Just like last year, when Aaron Boone broke Boston's hearts with his 11th-inning home run. Derek Lowe will start for the Sox rather than Tim Wakefield, it was announced this morning. The Yankees have not committed to a starter, although it's likely to be Kevin Brown, with Orlando Hernandez and Javier Vazquez ready for a call if Brown gets a quick hook.
But there is no Game Seven without seven heroic innings by Schilling, who overcame the pain from the most famous dislocated ankle tendon in New England to retire 21 of the 25 Yankees he faced.
"He did a phenomenal job, an extremely gutsy performance," said catcher Jason Varitek. "You can't put it in words what it meant. I can't do it justice."
Schilling was rocked for six runs in Game One and his season appeared over because he needs surgery on the ankle. But the Boston medical staff used a highly unorthodox procedure to allow Schilling to keep his season alive.
Schilling's ankle area was sutured Monday with stitches -- and blood stains were clearly visible coming through his right sock during the game. It was like seeing Robert Redford's ruptured stomach muscles oozing in the climax of "The Natural." Only this was real.
"To avoid having (the tendon) popping in and out, they sutured the skin down in between the tendons to keep the tendon out," Schilling said. "And it worked."
Schilling scrapped the custom-made hi-top he had been trying because it was causing pressure in the sutured area and stayed with his regular shoe.
"You can talk all you want about that area and the sutures but his heart is so big," said Boston manager Terry Francona. "This was amazing. Our medical people jumped through hoops and they are to be commended. . . . I guarantee you he didn't feel that good but he competed and pitched his (butt) off."
Schilling struck out four, walked none and had his velocity in the mid-90s, where it would normally be, for much of the game. He threw 99 pitches, 67 strikes.
Schilling yielded a third-inning double to Miguel Cairo, back-to-back singles in the fourth to Alex Rodriguez and Gary Sheffield and a seventh-inning solo home run to Bernie Williams. And that was it.
It was a brilliant performance, far more than the Red Sox could have ever imagined. It allowed the Sox to become the first team in baseball history to wipe out a 3-0 deficit in a postseason series and get to Game Seven.
"These guys are phenomenal. I'm just so proud to be part of this team," Schilling said. "We just did something that has never been done. It ain't over yet. It ain't over by any stretch against this team and this organization. . . . I'm feeling pretty special about being part of this club right now."
The day before his start in Game One, Schilling talked about his ideal scenario of "making 55,000 people from New York shut up." It didn't happen, of course, as the bum ankle led to a shelling that had the stadium in an uproar.
In Game Six, however, things were just as Schilling had envisioned. You've never heard 56,128 people so quiet.
The Red Sox gave Schilling the cushion he needed with a four-run fourth that saw them touch New York starter Jon Lieber for all the runs after two were out.
Varitek drove in Kevin Millar with the first one, winning a 10-pitch at-bat with an RBI single to center. After an Orlando Cabrera single, second baseman Mark Bellhorn broke away from his 3-for-21 rut in the series to stroke a disputed three-run homer to left that was at first called a double and then was correctly ruled a home run because it clearly carried over the fence and struck a male fan in the midsection before bouncing back on to the field.
"Everybody was on my side and kept telling me that I'm going to come through for this team," Bellhorn said. "That just shows a lot about how close we are and how much we really want to win this. I knew the wind was blowing in and the ball was slicing away from (left fielder Hideki Matsui). I thought it might get in the corner for a double but I was surprised that it went out.
The Yankees began to claw back in the seventh on Williams' home run. In the eighth, Derek Jeter's RBI single off Bronson Arroyo made it 4-2 but the rally was snuffed when Alex Rodriguez was called for interference for batting the ball out of Arroyo's hand as he tried to beat out a slow roller up the first-base line. Initially, Jeter went first-to-home to cut the gap to 4-3 and A-Rod was at second. But Jeter was sent back to first after the out call was made and the crowd began pelting the field with debris.
Boston closer Keith Foulke, pitching for the third straight day, walked two in the ninth but got the save by fanning Tony Clark on a 3-2 pitch.
"We've just kept believing in ourselves," Millar said. "The easy thing to do would have been to quit. But this team has too many warriors. Curt (Schilling) elevated our play tonight. . . . This team was as focused as I've ever seen and we'll be ready for Seven."