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REVERENCE FOR SCHILLING SKYROCKETS

Curt Schilling awoke Sunday morning sure as sure can be that his season was over, that Boston's World Series chase would go on without him. His mangled right ankle had stiffened as he slept. He could hardly walk from his bed.

"I don't know what had happened," Schilling said. "But I knew when I woke up there was a problem. I wasn't going to go out the way I felt. There's no way. That's kind of where everything started."

Schilling's spirits were dragging on asphalt as he started his drive from Medfield, Mass., to Fenway Park on Sunday morning. It seemed like everywhere on the route there were banners wishing him well, asking him to deliver New England's Red Sox one victory closer to the World Series title that's eluded the region for 86 agonizing years.

Schilling, a premier postseason performer, had approved his winter trade to Boston because he was intrigued by the challenge of representing a city with a ravenous championship hunger. He won 21 regular-season games. And now, with Game Two of the World Series at hand, with the city sensing that this might really-truly, do-we-dare-believe-it? be the year, the ankle that will require postseason surgery was screaming in revolt.

"I honest to God didn't think I was going to take the ball," Schilling said. "I didn't think I could."

He took the ball, of course. He took the ball and then he took command, strangling the offense out of the St. Louis Cardinals, the National League's most fearsome and productive team. He gave the Red Sox six gritty innings, allowing an unearned run, as Boston scored a 6-2 victory to complete a two-game sweep in Fenway.

Management of Schilling's injury has become the daily soap opera surrounding the Red Sox. He has a tear in the sheath surrounding a tendon in his right ankle, freeing the tendon to flop against the bone. He was a shell of himself in Game One of the American League Championship Series against the Yankees, a start so far out of character that fears his season was over seemed perfectly rational.

Schilling attempted fortifying the ankle by wearing high-top shoes, to unsatisfactory results. Meanwhile, Bill Morgan, the Red Sox doctor, devised an alternative plan. He determined the sheath would be strengthened if it were stitched to the skin. The procedure was unprecedented. Schilling gave it a whirl and recaptured his form, beating the Yankees in Game Six of Boston's historic rally to the pennant.

Three stitches were inserted to hold the sheath in place against the Yankees, then removed after the game. Four stitches were inserted Saturday in preparation for Sunday's start, and that's where the trouble arose.

"We had caught a nerve in the leg," Schilling said. "We took that (fourth) stitch out and things started to change almost immediately from that point. As soon as we alleviated that nerve issue, things changed drastically."

The World Series history of the Red Sox is littered with tragic figures. But now it seems the Red Sox are on the verge -- if such a thing can ever be said of the Red Sox -- of having themselves a bona-fide World Series hero, a figure of mythological proportions. Schilling could be to Boston what Willis Reed was to the 1970 New York Knicks, emerging from the shadows to spark a championship run after being given up for lost.

"There's a good chance 10 years from now that people will say Willis Reed pulled a Curt Schilling," said Theo Epstein, Red Sox general manager.

No one's saying whether Schilling will be able to pitch again this series. Morgan told the Associated Press that the procedure takes a toll, that there comes a point at which the body's been tapped.

"I don't know," Schilling said. "I haven't thought about it. We'll see what happens."

He hopes he's already done enough.
e-mail: bdicesare@buffnews.com

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