Schilling puts his game where his mouth is

BOSTON -- Drama king. Fraud. Two-faced.

You name the rip job, and Curt Schilling has heard it, endured it, and in his own Schilling-esque way, even embraced it. He leads the Red Sox in Most Backstabs Received, including a recent stiletto wound by one of his own teammates. Anonymous, of course.

Mr. Insincere was at it again Sunday, selfishly strapping the Red Sox on his 38-year-old right shoulder and hogging a spotlight that should have been aimed at the team's wild-card run. Typical Schilling. Always has to be the center of attention.

By the way, Schilling won the game, not that it seems to matter to his many critics. He won a game the Red Sox could afford to lose, but only if they wanted to take their chances in a potential one-game play-in game here against the Cleveland Indians. Instead, the Chicago White Sox made it a moot point, officially eliminating the Indians from the playoff chase as Boston batted in the bottom of the fifth inning.

But even if the Indians, who are going to have to file a Missing Bats report (six runs in their last four losses), had won Sunday, it wouldn't have mattered. No way was Schilling going to lose to the New York Yankees, in front of a full Fenway house, in front of a regional and occasional national TV audience.

By the time the Fenway scoreboard operator pulled the No. 9 placard from the innings column of the Chicago-Cleveland game, Schilling and the Red Sox were comfortably ahead of the Yankees, 6-0. When he left the game after six innings, Schilling was up 10-1. The guy is so money he ought to have his own currency.

You don't think the Indians were glancing at the Jacobs Field scoreboard Sunday, scared stiff that Schilling was going to do what he usually does in moments that matter: deliver? How demoralizing do you think it was for Cleveland, whose game started an hour earlier than the one at the Fens, to see Schilling throw goose eggs? Here's guessing there was some, uh, muscle constriction in the Indians' dugout.

I respect Schilling for all sorts of reasons. The Bloody Sock. Those 24 wins in 2004. The offseason ankle surgery. The charities. His public stance against steroids. The Hurricane Katrina family he sponsors. The gutty, but ill-advised decision to rush his rehab and pitch in mid-April. His July volunteer move to the bullpen. The September return to the rotation. And now, when the Red Sox needed something close to a sure thing, a victory on the final day of the regular season.

So what if he likes to chug mugs full of publicity? At least he doesn't conduct interviews while doing sit-ups in his driveway. And I don't recall reading his name on a police blotter.

Schilling is guilty of nothing more than going extra innings with his mouth. The man could be used on Capitol Hill for filibusters. His media guide bio could read: Enjoys spending time with his family, long walks on the beach and speaking into as many microphones as humanly possible.

Somehow, Schilling's love of attention has morphed into him being labeled, by some, as a crummy teammate, as an I-guy.
"Who said it?" Red Sox manager Terry Francona said. "Somebody who's probably ignorant, who doesn't know. I've known him. I've been around him probably longer than anybody. If you want somebody to praise him you came to the right person. Because I've known him longer than anybody. I know what he's about.

"I'll take him. We'll take him."

Nobody will confuse the Schilling of '04 with the Schilling of '05. He is 8-8 this season with an ERA of 5.69. Perhaps more encouraging for Francona and Red Sox Nation is that Schilling is 3-0 in his last five starts.

"This man, this man," said catcher and team captain Jason Varitek for emphasis, "has come back from a major injury. He's still helped this team ... win a lot of ball games."

Schilling is a gamer. What teammate wouldn't want that? He shouldn't have made that first start in April, but he did. "When it's all said and done, he really wasn't ready," Francona said. "But how do you stop him?"

He became a closer when the Red Sox didn't have one. He became a starter when the Red Sox needed one. And this is selfish how?
"It hasn't been easy for him," Francona said. "Everybody knows the story."

When Francona informed him he was through after six innings of one-run pitching, Schilling began talking about his Tuesday side session and what he needed to work on. Yeah, sounds like a fraud to me.

"I'm not where I want to be," Schilling said. "But it's a new season. Everybody starts 0-0 tomorrow. I'll be where I need to be when I get the ball."

He'll be on the Fenway mound for Saturday's game against the White Sox. Game 4 of the AL Divisional Series.

Big game. Big-game pitcher.

Gene Wojciechowski is the senior national columnist for ESPN.com. You can contact him at gene.wojciechowski@espn3.com.