Philly just another city for Schilling


BALTIMORE – There was a time when Curt Schilling would have circled this weekend in red. Bells would have gone off in his head when the schedule came out and he saw BOS at PHI. He would have sharpened his pencil, done the math and exclaimed, “Oh, yeah, I’m pitching the Sunday game.”

Philadelphia will never be just another city to Schilling. He’s the first to admit that. But nearly six years after throwing his last pitch for the Phillies, and within shouting distance of the big four-oh, Schilling has mellowed some. His adrenal glands just don’t shift into overdrive quite the way they once did when he came to South Philly to face his old team.

That’s why Schilling simply shrugged when his Boston Red Sox, twice rained out last weekend, shuffled their rotation, denying him a chance to pitch Sunday at Citizens Bank Park.

After three in Philadelphia, the Red Sox go home to face the hated New York Yankees. Schilling will pitch the series opener Monday night.

“Believe me, I would have been ready to go if I was pitching in Philly,” Schilling said in the visiting clubhouse at Camden Yards the other day. “But I’m not. I’ll pitch Super Bowl Monday in Fenway instead.”

Super Bowl Monday. What a perfect way to sum up Yankees-Red Sox. After all these years, Schilling can still turn a phrase, though he may never top his “Mystique and Aura” remark from the 2001 World Series, nor his calling Deion Sanders a “glorified flag football player who can run” during a 1997 confrontation.

Schilling has never pitched at Citizens Bank Park. He was on the disabled list when the Red Sox visited last season. He pitched a simulated game – Larry Andersen used to wash those down with a “simulated beer” – but those don’t count.

Not long ago, Schilling actually dreamed of starting the first game ever at Citizens Bank Park. After the 2003 season, when it was clear he was going to be traded from Arizona, Schilling publicly stated that the Phillies and Yankees were the only two teams to which he’d accept a trade.

The Phillies made an offer, but, at best, were lukewarm on bringing Schilling back. They thought it would be better to bring back a younger Kevin Millwood. Time went on. The Red Sox entered the picture. Schilling OKd a trade to Boston, got a contract extension, and became immortal in Red Sox lore when he hobbled to the mound on a mangled ankle and helped pitch the long-tortured franchise to its first World Series championship in 86 years.

Schilling’s contract runs through next season, at which time he says he’ll retire. He no longer has a desire to finish his career with the Phillies, the team with which he spent 8 seasons, winning 101 games and twice registering 300 strikeouts.

“They had their chance,” he said of the Phillies. “Everything happens for a reason. When the Philly thing didn’t work out I knew I was going to finish my career in Arizona, Boston or New York.”

During his time in Philadelphia, Schilling often criticized management for not doing more to put a winner on the field. But he never had a problem with the city or the fans. Both remain special to him, even if he admits that he has few ties left to the organization.

“Everyone talks about that city and what a craphole the Vet was,” he said. “I had nine awesome years there. There was some good times and some bad times. We struggled a lot. But it was an incredible experience. It was amazing how loud 11,000 people could be. They were good to me. They respected me, and they were good to my family. As a player you can’t ask for anything more than that. I have some awesome memories there, and most of them are tied to the Vet.”

Life on the field hasn’t gone smoothly for Schilling since the 2004 World Series. He spent much of last season on the DL with a bad ankle and actually thought about retiring. He came back this season, leaner and lighter, and got off to a fantastic start, going 4-1 with a 1.61 ERA in his first four starts.

Lately, he has struggled. He doesn’t have the 98-m.p.h. fastball he once did and has been hit hard. His ERA in his last five starts is 6.53. Despite this, he has six wins, which has raised his career total to 198. With more than a season and half left – not to mention a decade of dominance and a tremendous postseason resume – Schilling should win enough games to merit serious Hall of Fame consideration. He might already be there.

Schilling scoffs at Hall of Fame talk.

“It’s not a situation I ever see happening,” he said. “I’m not going to win enough games. I’ve played with Hall of Famers like Pedro (Martinez) and Randy (Johnson). I’m not one of them.”

Time will tell. Right now, Schilling is just happy to be healthy, happy to be taking a regular turn with the Red Sox.

His turn won’t come up in Philadelphia this weekend. A few years ago, that would have left Curt Schilling feeling disappointed. Not now.

“Times change,” he said. “People change.”

(c) 2006, The Philadelphia Inquirer.

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AP-NY-05-17-06 2027EDT