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It comes down to the aces

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By JOHN ROMANO

© St. Petersburg Times,
published November 4, 2001


PHOENIX -- A week ago, they chafed. They bristled and they fumed.

It was an insult to all that the Diamondbacks had accomplished to call them a two-man team in the World Series. To suggest that it was Johnson-and-Schilling and the-Good-Lord-willing.

Today, they grovel. They beg and they plead.

Please Curt Schilling. Win us a World Series.

This is where we are today. At Game 7 and no longer counting. Either Schilling beats Roger Clemens and Arizona becomes the youngest World Series champion in history, or the Yankees legend lives and grows.

Do not be misled by the score of Game 6 or the number of hitters the D'backs discovered. Arizona won big Saturday night because Randy Johnson was on the mound. And because the Yankees went on vacation.

The simple truth is the Diamondbacks were a different team in the regular season when Schilling and Johnson pitched, and the postseason has reinforced that image.

"If you told me in April that we were going to be down three games to two in the World Series, but we were coming home with Johnson and Schilling for Games 6 and 7, I would have taken that in a heartbeat," said Arizona managing general partner Jerry Colangelo. "We won tonight and we have everything we need for Game 7. It's what I want. It's what Schilling wants."

Schilling is sure enough in himself to essentially guarantee a victory. He said it before Saturday's game and then repeated it afterward.

"I believed it before the game, and I still believe it. If we got by (Game 6) we will win the World Series," Schilling said. "I believe that."

Numbers sometimes can be misconstrued. Stats can be twisted to support a particular thesis. In this case, the numbers do not lie.

The Diamondbacks were 51-18 when the dynamic duo pitched in the regular season. They were 41-52 with the rest of the staff. The disparity has grown wider in the playoffs. In Johnson's and Schilling's starts, Arizona is 8-2. In other games, the D'backs are 2-4.

Arizona hitters relax when they know their aces are warming up. The defense tightens up. Manager Bob Brenly applies for Mensa.

Do the math. If Arizona wins the World Series, all four victories will come on days Schilling and Johnson pitched.

"They told me after Game 4 that there was a possibility I might start Game 7," Arizona pitcher Brian Anderson said. "As Curt's arm got better as the week went on, that possibility went down. It's about zero right now."

The plot, of course, is thicker than this.

Schilling often has credited Clemens with turning his career around by lecturing him a decade ago during a chance meeting in Houston. Clemens scolded Schilling for wasting his talent by not taking the game seriously enough.

Today, Schilling and Clemens are the first 20-game winners to meet in a Game 7 in 16 years.

"If the Lord had sat me down in January and asked me to write out the script for a dream season, I couldn't have come up with this,' Schilling said. "I couldn't have dreamt this. I'm not that big of a dreamer."

Schilling, already, has delivered one of the greatest postseasons in history. In five starts, he has pitched 41 innings and given up 19 hits. He is 4-0 with a 0.88 ERA and has not given up more than one run in any start.

But there is a question of how effective he will be, starting his third game of the Series. Before this week, he never had pitched on three days rest in his career. Now he is doing it in back-to-back starts. He will take the mound for the third time in nine days in the biggest game of his life.

This is a bright man, with a life-of-the-party outlook. He can be funny, crude and eloquent, often in the same sentence. He also has been described by some as insincere and calculating. Every one of those qualities seemed to show up at various times in the Series. Last weekend, he accepted the Roberto Clemente Award for humanitarian work before Game 2 and then appeared to purposefully toast his manager after Game 4.

When he struck out David Justice to end the seventh inning in Game 4, Schilling went to the dugout and told Brenly he was spent. He told catcher Damian Miller that he had put all his reserves into the Justice at-bat.

Then, when Brenly told him a reliever was on the way, Schilling protested. When the bullpen failed to hold the lead, Schilling told reporters that he felt he had another inning left in him.

So Brenly was fried for his decision and Schilling stayed mum for two days before explaining Friday that his comments had been "misconstrued."

There is no way to misinterpret this. The World Series has come down to a final day, a final game, between long-time associates.

"I don't know how to explain this to someone in the print media other than to say it's like being in the essay contest finals against Hemingway. A paint-off against Picasso," Schilling said. "It's Roger Clemens and the Yankees in Game 7 of the World Series."

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