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The brilliant Schilling

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Oct. 14

Game 5: Diamondbacks 2, Cardinals 1
The Diamondbacks are 4 years old. They have traded Karim Garcia for Luis Gonzalez. They figured it out with Miguel Batista. They got Matt Williams. They signed stars, and the stars they signed -- Randy Johnson, Steve Finley, for example -- are 11s on a character scale of 10. And it doesn't matter if Tony Womack hit a flare ...

They earned all of this, and Bob Brenly -- a sage coach with the Giants who is smart and modest enough to hire good men around him, like the brilliant Bob Melvin -- never once managed like a broadcaster, because he was a coach who broadcast.

But baseball teams are like football teams: some are great between the 20s and some get through the red zone. And when GM Joe Garagiola traded for Curt Schilling, he made the one move that got the 4-year-old D-Backs where they are today: in the NLCS, and the youngest franchise to win a postseason series.

I don't remember the game Schilling pitched early in the '93 World Series for the Phillies, and I don't care. All I know is that after the Phils lost 15-14 in Game 4, Schil went out the next night, shut out the Blue Jays and took it back to Toronto. And in Game 1 of the 2001 NLDS, when Matt Morris pitched brilliantly, Schilling was more brilliant and beat him 1-0.

When Morris again pitched brilliantly with the pennant on the line, so, too, did Schilling, well enough to get Morris out of the game and Dave Veres in.

Three crucial games, 27 innings, one run allowed.

That's all you have to know about Curt Schilling, and the team smart enough to get him and turn to him to go where no 4-year-old ever went before.

Game 4: Yankees 9, A's 2
Even when they couldn't hit Mark Mulder and Tim Hudson and it looked as if the guard had changed in The Stadium, the Yankees never quit: the at-bats of Derek Jeter, David Justice, Alfonso Soriano, Tino Martinez and Jorge Posada, the pitching that left the A's breathless until the ninth inning, each night.

But they are going back to New York because when people started to wave goodbye, the Yankees would not give up. Look, October is about pitching and soul, and the Yankees still had Mike Mussina and El Duque and pride even in defeat. They never lost their intensity; in fact, they rode that plane to Oakland believing that the A's got all those breaks that the Yankees have received for years.

Joe Torre understood that the Yankees have never won with numbers, but with people, so when it was suggested that he should manage by regular-season sabermetrics, he stuck with the people who make the Yankees what they are.

First, Mussina, who in case you weren't watching down the stretch, demonstrated why the first choice of the Yankees and Red Sox last offseason was him, not Manny Ramirez. Then Orlando Hernandez, who seemingly counted the tones in quarter-tone until the 10th month.

This generation's Mr. October, Jeter, made a play that many would never conceive of anyone making, then claimed it's what he's supposed to do. Then Bernie, Posada and Tino began hitting again as well -- as much as they have to with their great pitching. All of a sudden balls started bouncing over the fence and the things the Yankees seem to get -- and really earn -- started fading. And when Torre knew he couldn't lose, he used Rivera for two innings in Game 3.

So the Yankees are back in The Stadium to face Mark Mulder again, calm in their knowledge that they can live with whatever happens because they will give it their best and they have four rings at home. In many ways, the roles are reversed, because while if the Yankees lose it will be the end of the fun for some giant men, they will be back again next season.

For the A's, there is a far greater sense of urgency because their window is so small. Owner Steve Schott has been quoted as saying as they can live without Jason Giambi, and the leader of this young, intrepid team believes he is gone at the end of the season, along with Johnny Damon and Jason Isringhausen. It isn't unreasonable to think that Schott won't keep GM Billy Beane and his staff.

And while Hudson, Mulder, Barry Zito and Mario Ramos will make them a force in the future, the A's may never be this good again, which squarely puts the pressure of the moment on the shoulders of Mulder, who is the right man to begin and end this series because to him pressure is something someone else feels.

Game 4: Mariners 6, Indians 2
It got silly Saturday, and those 116 wins were all of a sudden bringing back memories of the 1906 Cubs and 1954 Indians. When Saturday's game mercifully ended, Lou Piniella talked of how his long relief staff had been blown out.

But what Piniella didn't say was that if he needed any of those long men in Game 4, he wasn't going back to Seattle anyway. What was important was that he didn't touch what makes his bullpen great and he had Freddy Garcia and Jamie Moyer and that team that won those 116 games. And as great as that team the Indians put in the field may be ... well ... most Indians knew not to think too fast.

No one dares to be compared to Mike Mussina, Andy Pettitte and Roger Clemens, not to mention Mariano Rivera and Mike Stanton, when it comes to proof of October pedigrees. But as great as the Oakland guns may be, Piniella will argue that his guy is the best young No. 1 starter in the American League.

Back to the numbers for Garcia: No. 1 in the league in ERA (3.05), second to Tim Hudson in quality starts (24 of 34), first in innings (238.2), third in on-base percentage allowed (.283), first in lowest slugging percentage (.344) and first in lowest OPS allowed (.627). As huge as he is -- and he is -- Piniella believes he's the best fielding pitcher in the league. And the Yankees found out that he can come up big, as he did in last year's ALCS.

Bartolo Colon was brilliant in two starts, and had Garcia 1-0 into the seventh. But remember, in Game 1 the Indians really only had one clean run, and with any luck we'd have been looking at Garcia the way we looked at Matt Morris, Barry Zito and Pettitte as tough-luck losers.

Sunday, Garcia proved that No. 1 status, and Jeff Nelson, Arthur Rhodes and Kazuhiro Sasaki worked, as usual. And now it's back to Seattle for Jamie Moyer and Chuck Finley, redux.

But don't be looking for John Rocker on Monday. He effectively ended his stay in Cleveland with his antics this week, topped off by asking writers why they don't ask Bob Wickman about a lawsuit in which he was named years ago. Wickman is one of the most respected and liked players on the team. Rocker is not, and if the Indians should win Monday night, don't look for John Rocker to beat out Rich Rodriguez for the ALCS roster.

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