There was a retractable roof overhead, the National League's
youngest franchise on the field, a national chain restaurant in
the upper deck in leftfield and a swimming pool behind the fence
in right. Yet at times on Sunday night it seemed as if
ultramodern Bank One Ballpark in Phoenix had been swept up by a
tornado and carried back in time to an era when pitchers ruled
the game. For the second time in five days righthanders Curt
Schilling of the Arizona Diamondbacks and Matt Morris of the St.
Louis Cardinals were filling the Bank One scoreboard with
zeroes, matching each other virtually pitch for pitch and making
hitters look helpless. In Game 1 of the National League Division
Series, Schilling had beaten Morris 1-0 in a classic duel, and
now they were bookending a taut series with another performance
befitting the major leagues' only 22-game winners. Through 8 1/2
innings each had allowed a lone run.
"It was a hair-pulling, nail-biting, teeth-grinding experience,"
said Schilling, after Diamondbacks shortstop Tony Womack had
singled in the winning run off reliever Steve Kline in the
bottom of the ninth. The 2-1 win clinched the first League
Championship Series berth in Arizona's four-year history and
left the Diamondbacks drenching one another with champagne in
the locker room. "When you win, it's exuberance. When you lose,
Devastating was the effect nearly every pitcher in the series
had on the hitters. Schilling, Morris and friends didn't exactly
send baseball back to the Dead Ball Era (the 447-foot rocket
Arizona's Reggie Sanders launched into that upper-deck eatery in
Game 5 was far from moribund), but they came close. The last
time so few runs (22) were scored in a five-game postseason
series was in 1981 (when the strike-shortened season forced two
division playoffs in each league); the last time before that was
in the World Series of 1915. The Cardinals were 2 for 33 (.061)
with runners in scoring position and had consecutive hits only
once in the series--harmless singles by Mark McGwire and Edgar
Renteria in the sixth inning of Game 4. The Diamondbacks weren't
much better in the clutch: 7 for 35 (.200) with runners in
scoring position. Overall St. Louis batted .191, Arizona .237.
How high was the premium on runs? In Game 3 Cardinals manager
Tony La Russa had his number 3 hitter, J.D. Drew, lay down a
sacrifice bunt with a runner on second in the fourth inning of a
scoreless game. In the ninth inning of Game 5, Diamondbacks
manager Bob Brenly nearly short-circuited Arizona's
series-winning rally by calling for a suicide squeeze from
Womack with one out. The pitch was a nasty slider low and
outside, Womack missed it, and pinch runner Midre Cummings was
easily tagged out. "I knew Tony was going to get a hit,"
Diamondbacks first baseman Mark Grace said of Womack later, "so
I was thinking, What is Brenly doing?"
Schilling inaugurated the offensive slowdown with his Game 1
gem, a three-hitter in which he struck out nine, walked one and
pitched his second straight postseason shutout. (The first had
been in the 1993 World Series, when he was with the Philadelphia
Phillies.) Arizona traded for him in July 2000 in the hope that
he would help lift the team into the playoffs last fall. Still
not completely recovered from December 1999 surgery on his right
shoulder, however, Schilling won only five of 11 decisions, and
the Diamondbacks missed the postseason by nine games. He went to
spring training this season convinced that he had let Arizona
down in 2000 and determined to make up for it this year.
Schilling started by ratcheting up his already intense study of
hitters. His laptop is loaded with video clips of every hitter
he faces; he spent much of the nighttime flight from St. Louis
to Phoenix between Games 4 and 5 doing what he calls "my
computer work." He also keeps notes in a dog-eared spiral
notebook, in which he'll occasionally scribble while sitting on
the bench during his starts. "He's the most prepared pitcher
I've ever played with," says Grace. "Nobody has a game plan and
then executes it as well as Curt does."
As the season progressed, Schilling also made clear to his
teammates how much he relishes being regarded as a big-game
pitcher. In proving himself just that, he lightened the load on
fellow starter Randy Johnson, who at times in his career has
felt burdened by having the entire weight of a team's
expectations on his shoulders. Johnson acknowledged during the
Division Series that he'd had more fun this season than in years
past. "I've got someone now who takes some of that
responsibility off me," says Johnson, who pitched well (eight
innings, three runs) in Game 2 but was still tagged with his
seventh straight postseason loss, a 4-1 St. Louis victory. "I
feel the responsibility of carrying the team in the postseason
has been evenly divided."
Because Schilling did most of the heavy lifting against the
Cardinals, Johnson, who was scheduled to start Game 1 against
the Braves on Tuesday, must return the favor in the League
Championship Series. After pitching on Sunday, Schilling wasn't
to face Atlanta until Game 3 and would get a second start only
if he comes back on short rest or the series goes seven games.
That rotation also places pressure on 30-year-old righthander
Miguel Batista, the Diamondbacks' third starter, who won Game 3
against St. Louis with a solid six-inning, three-run outing, and
on the scuffling Arizona offense. Brenly used four cleanup
hitters against the Cardinals--they went 4 for 21 with no
RBIs--and third baseman Matt Williams didn't have a hit until he
started Sunday's winning rally with a leadoff double. "Give a
lot of credit to their pitchers," said Arizona leftfielder Luis
Gonzalez , who went 5 for 19 with one homer and one RBI. "Every
time we had runners on base, they made great pitches."
Sounds like a page from Schilling's well-worn notebook. In six
postseason starts his ERA is 1.82, and his rep for being a
big-game pitcher is beginning to rival those of Koufax, Gibson
and Hershiser. "Those were the two best pitching performances
I've ever seen," said an emotional Grace, who had never won a
playoff series in his 14-year career. "I've been on two other
teams that went to the playoffs. If we'd had Curt Schilling on
those teams, we would have gone a lot further than we did."
COLOR PHOTO: JOHN BIEVER Twice as good Schilling followed his three-hit Game 1 gem with a relentless six-hit, nine-strikeout victory in the Game 5 clincher.
THE SCOUT'S VIEW
.266, 3 HRs, 30 RBIs
His speed is his strength. Undisciplined free-swinger who
doesn't get on base consistently.
.275, 4 HRs, 38 RBIs
Versatile. Plays second or short, can bat leadoff. No power. Can
bunt, hit the other way, hit-and-run.
.325, 57 HRs, 142 RBIs
Lately, he has been struggling when jammed. Teams try to bust
him inside, then pitch him away. When he gets hot, he can carry
.263, 33 HRs, 90 RBIs
Has slider bat speed but excellent at hitting mistakes. Adequate
.298, 15 HRs, 78 RBIs
Best clubhouse leader I've seen. Kills breaking stuff. Must bust
him in tight. Still smooth at first.
.275, 16 HRs, 65 RBIs
Having trouble catching up with gas and tends to chase balls out
of the zone. He's at the end.
2.75, 14 HRs, 73 RBIs
Banged up this year; a month ago Arizona sat him for a week. Now
looks spunky. A top defensive centerfielder.
.271, 13 HRs, 47 RBIs
Has short arms, so has difficulty reaching pitches on outside
part of plate. First-pitch swinger who makes good contact.
2B Jay Bell can't run, and his lack of range is a killer on
defense, but he can still hit for power. 1B Erubiel Durazo could
belt 40 home runs if he played regularly, but is not a very good
pinch hitter. OF David Dellucci is Diamondbacks' best lefthanded
bat in reserve. OF Midre Cummings has knack for starting two-out
rallies. OF Danny Bautista might develop into outstanding power
hitter. C Rod Barajas, a rookie, will be good backup, but staff
doesn't have total confidence in him yet.
Curt Schilling, RHP (22-6, 2.98 ERA) Great stuff and
preparation--keeps own scouting reports on hitters and umpires.
Splitter is wicked. Can elevate fastball in the zone. Also has
very good slider.
Randy Johnson, LHP (21-6, 2.49 ERA) Problem: He never backs
down. Sometimes needs to pitch more carefully but challenges
hitters by throwing 97-mph fastballs down the middle. No
lefthanded hitter wants to face him because he's so nasty.
Miguel Batista, RHP (11-8, 3.36 ERA) Hits 96 mph with natural
cutting fastball that moves. Also has slider that could be
fantastic with more work. Always had above-average stuff, but
looked as if he was afraid to use it. Now he's using it.
Albie Lopez, RHP (4-7, 4.00 ERA) Effective when working both
sides of plate but too often doesn't locate his pitches. I don't
understand why Diamondbacks traded for this guy--a 19-game loser
[he was 5-12 with Devil Rays before trade] with underwhelming
RHP Byung-Hyun Kim, the closer, can be unhittable. Throws two
tough pitches--a rising slider that cuts as it lifts and a
fastball in the mid-90s. Unfortunately, never know when he'll
uncork a pitch over a batter's head. RHP Mike Morgan sinks
everything and keeps stuff out of the hitting zone. LHP Greg
Swindell is the No. 1 lefty reliever, which is trouble for
Arizona. Stuff is easy to see, and he no longer has out-pitch.
LHP Brian Anderson a big disappointment with control problems.
RHP Erik Sabel shouldn't be in big leagues. Competitive RHP
Bobby Witt throws 88 to 90 mph with a decent slider.
HOW TO BEAT THEM
If Atlanta gets past Schilling or Johnson, it has a good chance
of winning the series because the Diamondbacks' bullpen is
mediocre. The Braves should make the bottom of the Arizona
order--Williams, who's struggling, Finley, Miller--beat them.
"He's the most prepared pitcher I've played with," said Grace
of Schilling. "Nobody has a plan and executes as well as Curt."