By Eric Neel
Page 2

Imagine you're Curt Schilling right now.

Imagine you're Curt Schilling today, this minute, with the ball in your hand and the curtain about to go up.

Curt Schilling
Schilling tested his ankle before Game 5.

You've been here before. The lights, the 100 million eyeballs, the pressure that comes with being the man and rising to meet the moment, it's all old hat to you.

You don't sweat the Yankee mystique. You remember October 27, 2001, and a certain 3-hit, 8-K night. The House that Ruth Built doesn't rattle you. You've left notches in that rubber like it was a belt around your waist.

You've got a ring on your finger and you snatched it from Georgie Porgie's ham-handed clutches.

And you can't believe your good luck. A few days ago you were done, your boys were done, you were rubber-necking a hideous postseason crash. But no, you get another shot. And like Freddie you're wondering, "Is this the real life? Is this just fantasy?"

You're Curt Schilling. You bring it. You throw heavy, diving balls and angry, screaming stuff. Your pitches come packed with purpose, wound tight with intent.

You won 21 games this year. You never give up. You're for the team -- you stand on the top step of the dugout when you're not standing on the hill.

You keep a notebook. You watch video. Nothing escapes you.

You take a tight-eyed look over the lip of your glove, let your breath fall from your shoulders and stretch the length of your arms, turn that broad back ... and deal.

You bear down. You bear up. It's what you do. It's who you are.

You're Curtis Montague Schilling and tonight's the night.

Curt Schilling
Back in April, Schilling wore his Yankee Hater hat at a Bruins game.

And everybody outside of New York loves you because you chose the underdog in this fight. (But, of course, that don't mean snot if you don't deliver now.)

This is what you came for. Not to achieve your own legacy (that's already done), but to be a part of a place and a people, to help write and re-write their history. You've been here before, with pinstripes in your sights and a quiver full of arrows on your back, but you've never exactly been here before, with the hopes and dreams of the faithful, and their parents, and their parents' parents, riding on you, with air kissed by curse and laden with anguish flowing in and out of your lungs with every breath. You wanted this, you sought this out, you reached for these people and they reached back. And now you're in. All the way in. You've been a part of this team all season, but tonight you become a made guy, one of the family, with all the rights and responsibilities, with all the risks and rewards, therein. You've been here before but you've never been here before.

Philly was hungry, but there wasn't near the same longing. And there was joy in Arizona, but they knew nothing of true pain.

You hang with The Sons of Sam Horn now.

And you've promised to shut some folks up.

You take the ball after two of the greatest games in team history. You take the ball after David Ortiz slapped it around the yard. You take the ball after a season considered nothing but a prelude to precisely this kind of moment. You take it after Grady left it in Pete's glove, Buckner let it get by, Spaceman gave it up, and George Herman took it and went home.

This is the game that makes you an icon, if you're up for it. Forget Yankee Killer or Big Game Pitcher. Try Redeemer on for size. Slip into Deliverer.

And you thought your stuff was heavy before ...

Curt Schilling
Schilling's T-shirt says it all. Now Game 6 is in his hands.

Imagine you're Curt Schilling right now.

Imagine knowing you've got to go long tonight, because there's no pitch count on you, and no bullpen behind you.

But that's all right, because it's in you. No doubt. You have that thing. You can summon it. It will drive you.

Except, what if the body doesn't cooperate? What if this alien form, that's aching when it ought to sing, that's betraying you, leaves you hanging tonight?

You have to put these thoughts out of your head.

You can't seem to think of anything else. There are doubts.

You're wearing a Johnny U boot and more tape than Swish had around her chest in "Fastbreak," your ankle's throbbing, bobbing and weaving like a marionette and bearing weight the way Jessica Simpson bears hardship, with a lot of whine and wiggle.

You stunk up the joint in Game 1. Your ERA is old enough to vote. You can't let things stand like that. This is a get-back game. Your boys picked you up the last couple nights, got you another shot. Now you owe them. Now you've got to steal a New York page and go Willis on the Yankees. More than that, you've got to go MJ with the flu, or Roy Hobbs with a bleeding ulcer. You need to write a storybook. You know that.

You also know Sheff and Matsui were turning your stuff around last time like a bouncer turns away math majors in coke-bottle specs at the door to a nightclub.

You know it's only Game 6, and even a lights-out performance here doesn't close the deal.

That really chaps you.

And you know, and this is what gets you most of all, that if you blow up tonight, if you lob balls up there the way you did in Game 1, looking like Ginger rolling craps in "Casino," or even if you're just unlucky, that they'll say it was the bloody curse. Or worse, they'll say the Sox just don't have what it takes, just can't take the Yankees.

And that'll make you and a couple million other people sick.

So you're Curt Schilling, and you've got all this swirling around inside your head tonight as you toe the rubber, work through your warmup pitches, and stare up into the thousands of screaming Yankee faces.

You're part indomitable spirit and part nerves that jingle, jangle, jingle; part seasoned champion, part new kid on the block.

And the beauty of it is, you wouldn't want to be anywhere else, and the Nation wouldn't rather have anyone else out there.

Imagine that.

Game on.

Eric Neel is a columnist for Page 2. His "On Baseball" column appears weekly.