Friday, October 26, 2007

Schilling, Bullpen Stifle Rockies in Game Two

After bludgeoning their way to a game one victory by pounding out 17 hits and scoring 13 runs, the Boston Red Sox relied on great pitching to beat the Colorado Rockies 2-1 and take a 2-0 lead in the World Series. Boston starter Curt Schilling added to his postseason resume by giving up only one run in 5.1 innings before handing the ball over to relievers Hideki Okajima and Jonathan Papelbon, who combined to strike out six while allowing only one hit in the final 3.2 innings. Okajima earned a hold and Papelbon picked up the save.

Colorado struck quickly in the first inning. Willy Taveras was hit by a pitch, advanced to third after Matt Holliday's infield single and then scored when Todd Helton grounded to first. The Rockies only had two base runners total in the next three innings. Meanwhile, Mike Lowell walked in the bottom of the fourth and eventually scored the tying run after a J.D. Drew single and a Jason Varitek sacrifice fly. Schilling walked leadoff hitter Troy Tulowitzki in the fifth inning but then retired the next three Colorado hitters. Boston manufactured the eventual winning run in the bottom of the fifth when David Ortiz walked, Manny Ramirez singled to advance him to second and Lowell's double brought Ortiz home. This was hardly the bombardment of extra base hits that Boston unleashed in game one but it was just enough to get the victory. Schilling retired Kazuo Matsui to start the sixth inning but, after he gave up a single to Holliday and walked Helton, Boston Manager Terry Francona brought in Okajima, who promptly retired the next two batters. Colorado's last chance came in the eighth inning when Holliday's single brought the go ahead run to the plate with two outs--but Holliday fell asleep at the switch and got picked off. Papelbon retired the side easily in the ninth inning. The next two games will be in Colorado on Saturday and Sunday; a third game will be played in Colorado on Monday if the Rockies get at least a split over the weekend.

ESPN's Jayson Stark points out that in many ways the 41 year old Schilling is the main story of the night. Schilling no longer throws heat the way that he did in his younger days but, as Lowell explains, Schilling "comes as close to executing a game plan as anybody I've seen...There's just a good flow to the game, because you know that whatever he wants to do on the mound, he's able to do it." Stark--with an assist from the Elias Sports Bureau--mentions that Schilling's game two performance is one for the record books: Schilling is now the only pitcher who has won a World Series game in his 20s, 30s and 40s, he is just the second pitcher to win a World Series game in his 40s and the span between his first World Series win and this one--14 years--is the second largest ever (Jim Palmer's first and last World Series wins were 17 years apart). Schilling's career postseason record now stands at 11-2 in 19 starts, including a 4-1 mark in seven World Series appearances. Stark contrasts Schilling's workmanlike 82 pitch performance in game two with his 147 pitch complete game shutout win versus the Toronto Blue Jays in game five of the 1993 World Series and says that Schilling's effort on Thursday is actually more impressive; back then, Schilling could just reach back and blow guys away with an overpowering fastball but now he has to rely on "guts" and "grit," as Schilling's 41 year old teammate Mike Timlin--who was a pitcher for the 1993 Blue Jays--puts it.

Colorado obviously faces a very daunting task now. Teams with 2-0 leads have gone on to win the World Series 39 out of 50 times (78%). Even if the Rockies win the next two games they will have to find a way to conquer Josh Beckett in game five and then win one of the last two games in Boston. Colorado's run of 21 wins in 22 games--including a 7-0 start in the postseason--seems like a distant memory now.

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