Curt Schilling said he'll remember the night forever. So will his teammates and a lot of the people who were in the ballpark or watching on television.
His body was battered, his arm dead. He was out there only because he thought he was supposed to be, only because he was too stubborn to admit he couldn't get the job done.
Years from now when he takes his World Series rings and playoff appearances and all the rest to the Hall of Fame, this single game will remain one all baseball fans will remember.
"Those are the games that define players," he told me a couple of springs ago. "Those are the games you take with you after you've retired. When you go out there with your 'A' stuff and you shut somebody out, that's nothing special. Anybody can do that. It's what you do those nights when everything goes wrong that are special."
Schilling announced his retirement Monday morning after 20 years and 216 career victories. He was a six-time All-Star and finished second in Cy Young Award voting three times.
'Never going to get it'
Schilling had an interesting career in that the Orioles and Astros both gave up on him. They saw him as too immature, too unwilling to do the work required to succeed in the big leagues.
When the Orioles sent him back to the minor leagues in 1990, I said to manager Frank Robinson, "Maybe something will click, and he'll get it."
"That kid ain't never going to get it," Robinson said.
A lot of the people who knew Schilling best felt exactly the same way. He was a goofball, a funny guy, the life of the party, but he was never going to be more than that.
Schilling credited a tough-love talk with Roger Clemens with getting him straightened out. Whatever it was, something clicked in his fifth big league season.
From the 1992 season on, he was a rock, winning 20 games three times, pitching 200 innings nine times.
A lot of people will remember him for winning a World Series game with a foot that had been sewn together. That bloody sock made for great television.
But there were dozens and dozens of other nights when Schilling got by with is grit and determination.
Sure, he talked too much at times and annoyed some teammates and all of that. The bottom line was that when it was time to put up or shut up, Schilling put up.
I drove halfway across Florida one spring to ask him if he remembered a game that I never forgot.
It was July 3, 2001. Pitching for the Diamondbacks, he allowed the Astros five runs in the first two innings at Enron Field and probably was one pitch away from being knocked out at least four different times.
He had nothing. Yet he stayed out there, kept moving his fastball around, changing speeds and seeing if his competitive fires could overcome his lack of stuff.
On a night when a lot of guys would have taken an early shower, Schilling survived seven innings, allowed six runs, threw 115 pitches and showed how the great ones react to adversity.
He dug himself a 5-0 hole, but his Arizona teammates rallied to tie it. Then he made one too many mistakes, and Julio Lugo's home run won the game 6-5.
I'd known him since he arrived in the big leagues in 1988 and have seen him pitch a long list of more important games. Yet that one stands out because it spoke volumes about Schilling's heart.
The nation grieved for those hurt, killed and affected by the Boston Marathon bombings. After one of the suspects was caught on Friday — following a day-long lockdown and manhunt — sports returned to Boston over the weekend.
The turning point
That night, he did his job but didn't win. At that point in his career, some people still weren't certain what to make of Curt Schilling. He had established himself as a workhorse winner during his final three seasons in Philadelphia, but he hadn't yet won anything significant.
The 2001 season would change everything. He and Randy Johnson carried the Diamondbacks to a championship, and no one ever again questioned Schilling's ability to win big games or persevere.
When he won those two 2004 playoff games with the Red Sox on an ankle that was crudely stitched together, he helped change the history of baseball in New England. His bloody sock has been shipped to the Hall of Fame, and his right ankle sports a six-inch scar from surgery he underwent after the World Series.
If things work out the way they should, he'll join his sock in Cooperstown in five years. His 216 career victories leaves him short of one of the Hall of Fame benchmarks, but in terms of winning championships, of being a guy his teammates could count on, he's a Hall of Famer in every sense of the word.
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After 20 years in the major leagues, Curt Schilling is calling it quits. Take a look at memorable moments in his career.
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