Thursday, October 14, 2004

NEW YORK. — Nothing is simple when it comes to the Boston Red Sox.

This is a baseball team that has been surrounded by melodrama since the day Babe Ruth was traded to the New York Yankees in 1920 — supposedly begetting the Curse of the Bambino. Those who believe in such mystical qualities are sure to point to the latest twist in this ongoing tale as more proof that the Babe continues to have a stranglehold on the franchise.

Curt Schilling’s right ankle joins Grady Little’s failed call to the bullpen, Bill Buckner’s muff, Bucky Dent’s home run and Johnny Pesky’s holding the relay as part of Red Sox lore.

Schilling, a Cy Young Award contender after a 21-6 season, injured a tendon in his ankle in his Division Series start against the Anaheim Angels. It prevented him from being effective in Game1 of the American League Championship Series on Tuesday night, as witnessed by the six runs he allowed in three innings in a 10-7 loss to the Yankees.

Of all the players on the Red Sox roster to come up lame, that it was Schilling only reinforces the curse. The veteran right-hander was brought to Boston in December in a trade with the Arizona Diamondbacks specifically to face the Yankees in the ALCS.

“I think Schill has been shooting for last night’s game since last Thanksgiving, when Theo and those guys went out and signed him,” Boston manager Terry Francona said. “He was waiting to pitch that game, and he could not pitch that game the way he’s able to physically.”

Now his ability to make another start in this series is in serious doubt, depending on whether a brace can be constructed to keep his tendon in place. The device they constructed for Tuesday night didn’t do the trick, allowing the tendon to move back and forth and rub against a bone.

The finest minds in New England will be called upon. Doctors, chiropractors, machinists and mystics throughout the region should contact the Red Sox immediately with ways to keep Curt Schilling’s ankle tendon in place.

Of course, at any time other than the middle of the ALCS against the Yankees, Schilling’s ankle would be in a cast, and no one would be talking about him pitching. They would be scheduling time in the operating room.

“He has a very high pain threshold, and he does very well with that, and we are able to control some of the pain with medication,” team physician William Morgan said. “But it’s the physical snapping of his tendon that interferes with his ability to balance and his ability to focus. … With this continuously snapping in and out, it causes a considerable amount of inflammation of the tendon, so he has a base line of tenderness. When he’s not in a game situation, he is in a boot that’s much like a cast to protect this and limit the amount of time that it occurs.”

The snapping the doctor referred to also could have been the snapping of the Red Sox’s chances of finally beating the Yankees in the postseason. Of course, it is the Red Sox, who really don’t seem to know any way to operate other than under circumstances seemingly beyond their control.

“If we’re not able to overcome some adversity, we’re not a good enough team,” Francona said. “We’ll do what we have to to try to win games. That’s part of competing and believing in what you’re doing and believing in the people you do it with.”

This sets the stage for former 20-game winner Derek Lowe, who fell out of favor and out of the rotation during parts of the season, to step in and redeem himself if he is called on to pitch in Schilling’s place.

“It was an up-and-down year for Derek,” Francona said, hardly a vote of confidence.

It doesn’t get any more down for the Red Sox than Curt Schilling not being able to pitch. Then again, maybe there is one final melodrama, one that could be worth a Red Sox victory in the series — Schilling limping in from the bullpen in the seventh game to pitch one inning of relief to save the win and the pennant.

Maybe then the Bambino will be satisfied that the dues finally have been paid.

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