Tuesday, June 19, 2007
Only 11 days have passed since Curt Schilling dabbled with immortality, coming within one out of a no-hitter.
Could he have gotten this old, this fast?
Or was Chipper Jones, Atlanta's All-Star third baseman, onto something when he wondered last night -- along with a veteran scout who said that was "the worst I've ever seen him throw" -- whether the 40-year-old Red Sox pitcher is injured?
"I think we all expected to see 92, 93 [miles per hour] when he gets in trouble, or even hike it up to 94, 95," Jones said after Schilling was carried out on his shield following a 9-4 beating in which he allowed the Braves six runs on 10 hits in just 4 1/3 innings and failed to strike out a batter for the first time in 14 years (348 starts).
Jones said Schilling, who departed after giving up a three-run home run to catcher Brian McCann, had less velocity than the scouting reports led the Braves to expect. It's no secret, of course, that Schilling doesn't have the fastball of his youth, but in his dotage he had shown the capacity to summon it when most needed.
"The fastball that I saw register the highest was 89, and that was with the bases loaded," Jones said. "Schill always had that innate ability to catch another gear when he needs it, and for me to only see 89 miles an hour tells me, you know, he might be hurt. I don't know."
Schilling didn't explicitly dismiss that suggestion. Asked about his health, he said, "Like I said, it's not any one thing. I struggled, at least the last two starts, it's terrible. I'm better than that. It's frustrating."
Last night, he was a shell of the Schill who has won so many huge games in the course of his career, departing after McCann, who was born just two years before Schilling threw his first pitch as a professional, crushed a pitch into the right-center-field seats for a 6-1 lead.
"It was supposed to be a slider, down and in," Schilling said. "It backed up right over the middle."
Schilling gave up a run in the third, two in the fourth, and was gone with one out in the fifth, while Mike Timlin was touched for a two-run home run by Scott Thorman in the seventh.
The Sox lost badly despite Coco Crisp's first two-homer game in the big leagues and first four-hit game with the Red Sox, and another home run by J.D. Drew in his return to Atlanta, where he put up the best numbers of his career in 2004 (.305, 31, 93). Crisp, who hit twice as many home runs in his first three at-bats last night as he had in his first 227 at-bats this season, informed Sox PR chief John Blake he would not be commenting on what manager Terry Francona hopes was a breakout game"You hope so," Francona said. "Those were good swings, really good swings. The ball came off the bat with authority. He's played such great defense, throw in some offense . . ."
Jones was not surprised that Schilling showed little inclination to discuss a possible injury.
"Schill's such a bulldog, man, he's not going to admit it unless it's to the point he just can't go anymore," Jones said. "He's always going to go out there and give you everything he's got. But when you drop your velocity into the 80s, it makes his split less effective, his cutter less effective. He's used to pitching and getting away with mistakes, all at 90-plus-miles an hour; at 89, you get away with less mistakes."
There may still be times, Jones said, when Schilling still locates all his pitches and keeps the mistakes to a minimum. But that becomes harder to do when you can't reach back for something extra when you need it.
"He's never thrown me in much," Jones said. "He's always stayed with the hard heater away. If I get ahead in the count, he'll back door that cutter, then be able to put you away with a devastating split. Now, you're talking about all his pitches being somewhere in the 80s, and that's a little bit easier for hitters to handle."
The splitter was something less than devastating last night.
"It would have been," Jones said, "if his fastball had been 93, 94. You have to respect that. Hitters have egos. They hate to be beat with a fastball. He capitalizes on that, throwing off-speed 81, 82 with movement."
Schilling was unsparing in his self-criticism.
"It's embarrassing," he said. "I never gave us a chance. I want to walk around the room and apologize to everybody -- the manager, teammates, fans. There's no excuse for a game like that to play out the way it did."
Schilling has found his inconsistency maddening. He had nothing on Opening Day in Kansas City, lasting just four innings, then gave up one run, total, in 15 innings over his next two starts. That pattern has recurred. On May 28, he struck out 10 in seven innings against the Indians, then lasted just five innings against the Yankees the next time out.
In his last start, he was knocked around by Colorado for nine hits and six runs (five earned) in five innings, though his defense contributed to his undoing. Last night, he had no defense for his own performance.
"My goal has always been to be consistent and give the team innings," he said, "and I've been as far from that as you can be, and that's frustrating.
"What I'm doing is not working. I'm not executing. It's not just one thing. It's a combination of a lot of different things. To pinpoint one thing probably would be wrong."
Is the loss of velocity on his fastball chiseling away at his confidence?
"I'm not pitching well," he said. "That's what chisels away at your confidence. Especially with this team, you can go out and not throw well and still win games. I didn't give us a chance."