Sideline Scholars: The 'Schill' of victory: Curt becomes hero
The ball is ice in your hands. A few ounces of twirled twine and lace that will define your evening, your year, your career, your life.
You walk on air because you can't feel the ground beneath you. A red sea of fire and ice pours out of your heel.
The weight of a city, a region, a Nation rests upon your shoulders, which must now throw a perfect game. And standing across from you is the single greatest (and most expensive) compilation of wood-yielding masters ever to step foot on a diamond.
And there, less than a week ago, in the hallowed halls of Fenway Park, you stood, and gutted out the performance of a lifetime. A performance Willis Reed, Kirk Gibson and Michael Jordan are envious of.
You drove to the park, admittedly scared, and clenched your teeth while a man you've known for less than a year went to town on your ankle, giving you no assurances that you'd ever be able to play the game you love after tonight.
He tied your ankle together with nothing more than glorified shoelace, giving you pats on the back to distract your focus from the unprecedented procedure he was performing on your leg.
You forced a smile to the swanky, good-looking kid you call boss and reassured him that his multi-million-dollar investment would come through for at least one night. He looked back through gritted teeth and gave you a half-smile. You saw right through his shaken confidence.
But you took the pain, the shot, the shock and the fear, and you toed the rubber. A rubber you never felt because along with shoelaces and half smiles were cortisone shots and numbing agents. Oh, and years' worth of pain that you knew would find you under the knife the day after the season ended.
That day could have been tomorrow ... but you didn't let it.
Old enemies, a nemesis some would say. You made them succumb to your mastery. And after each broken bat, empty swing and lazy pop-up, those pinstriped devils walked back to their dugout (something you could barely do) and turned over water coolers, wondering how a man with one good leg was so brilliant.
Through six innings you shut down the most powerful machine in years and made it your daddy. You helped reverse the curse with a masterful two hours, which will go down in history as the gutsiest performance ever.
You whet the enemy's palate in the seventh inning by giving Bernie Williams, who should have been your teammate, a high fastball. He jerked it into right field. You retired the side in order after him.
That's mean. You gave them some hope and you took it away. Kind of like three years ago, when you let them within three outs of the World Series, before your partner in crime shut them down and your teammates won it for you ... And you got the MVP.
You've been a thorn in this Yankee side for years. And now, with needles shooting from your foot, you permanently lodged yourself as a pain in their $200-million rear end.
Furthermore, this pain wasn't the worst you've felt. Your wife had cancer a few years ago. Your only outlet was the game you love. And now, you looked at her last week and drew inspiration. Pain? You don't know pain, compared with her. Who knows if you would have done what you did, had she not done what she did.
And then, when you took a giant leap to reversing the curse, you slammed the door in Game 2 of the World Series, as blood virtually leaked out of your ankle, mixing crimson with the burnt sand on Fenway's mound.
You've taken time, stopped it, thrown it back 96 years and given the middle finger to an overweight outfielder who was sold for pocket change.
You've told New Englanders who've cried for years to shut up because everything they've grown to hate is nearing an end. Not because they acquired a $252 million contract or because they have a poster-boy, homegrown shortstop. Not even because they have a heavy-hitting outfielder.
You've delivered the Boston Red Sox to the threshold of heaven's door because they took a chance on an over-the-hill, past-his-prime hurler who left the desert heat for crisp, autumn air.
And as you covered first base the other night, your limp was noticeable, almost teasing those hated Yankees. They couldn't beat you at your worst. You are admired, revered and loved.
You, Curt Schilling, are a hero.