Wednesday, October 2
Is Schilling tipping pitches? The debate rages on
By Wayne Drehs
PHOENIX -- It's an uncomfortable topic for any pitcher, not to mention a back-to-back 20-game winner who has struggled the past month and now must save his team from postseason disaster.
Yet entering Game 2 of this Division Series, a virtual must-win for Arizona following St. Louis' 12-2 pasting in Game 1, Diamondbacks ace Curt Schilling couldn't avoid questions as to whether or not he's committing pitching's greatest faux pas -- tipping his pitches.
ESPN baseball analyst Rick Sutcliffe said he discovered Schilling's errors during his Sept. 25 start against St. Louis. His curiosities were confirmed during Sunday's game against Colorado, one in which he broadcast. Sutcliffe said he could tell by the way Schilling held his glove what he was going to throw. He went as far as to predict the pitches during the broadcast.
Of the 16 pitches Schilling threw, Sutcliffe predicted all 16 correctly. And after the game, he talked with Schilling about the problem.
"It's something that every pitcher goes through from time to time," Sutcliffe said. "When you get a pattern of doing a certain thing on a certain pitch, everybody picks up on it. The biggest thing is recognizing it."
On Wednesday, nobody on the Cardinals or Diamondbacks would admit such was the case. But not everyone denied it, either. And by reading between the lines of the tap dancing quotes and listening to Sutcliffe, you realize if Schilling doesn't correct the potential problem on Thursday night, the defending World Champions could be one game from elimination.
"Schill is a very intelligent man," Arizona manager Bob Brenly said. "We've got a lot of very experienced baseball eyes that have been looking at the video the past couple days. If there's something there, we'll correct it."
If indeed Schilling is tipping his pitches, it could explain his stretch run. Last year's Cy Young runnerup, Schilling was 23-7 during the regular season, giving him 45 victories the past two seasons. But he allowed 18 runs -- 17 earned -- in his last 16 1/3 innings. He also lost consecutive starts for the first time since mid-June.
His lousy September, during which his 5.87 ERA ballooned his season-long ERA from 2.81 to 3.23, likely cost him his first Cy Young Award.
Sunday, against the Rockies, Schilling tuned up for the playoffs in a brief relief appearance, only to surrender a three-run homer to Colorado's Brent Butler.
Schilling, Brenly and catcher Damian Miller all insist that health is not the issue. Nor are mechanics. Or pitch selection. Instead, they say the problem has been execution.
"The best plan in the world can't survive poor execution," Schilling said. "Mentally, yeah, I'm a little bruised. I stunk it up the last five or six starts. No one wants to have their psyche beat like that."
As for tipping his pitches, Schilling isn't sure that's been the problem, either. Sutcliffe said after Sunday's game that Schilling approached him about what he saw and the two talked about it along with teammate Mark Grace. After that, Schilling watched the performance on video.
On Wednesday, he downplayed his concern over the issue.
"I will pay it the consideration I think it deserves and look at the video," Schilling said. "Certainly it's something where if I feel it needs to be addressed, I'll address it."
Tipping pitches is nothing new in baseball. Brenly admitted on Wednesday that "an overwhelming majority" of his team's pregame preparation is spent scrutinizing opposing pitchers to find any sort of advantage. Grace called it part of the game.
But it's a rare problem for someone like Schilling, a meticulous student of the game who has a research library filled with videos, tendencies and notes on every batter he's ever faced. Now it appears the tables may have been turned on him.
"You'd be surprised how many people do it," Grace said. "We're always spending time trying to find anything we can to give us an advantage. I'm sure they do the same thing.
"I don't think they have him. I mean, he had a six-hitter with 12 K's the last time out against St. Louis. He made two bad pitches (two three-run homers) and that was it."
Yet Grace's next words cast a shadow of doubt over such confidence.
"And if they do have him, then he'll get it fixed."
The issue of tipping is a sensitive one in baseball. From the pitcher's point of view, nothing is more humbling than admitting somebody has cracked your code. For the batters, the last thing they want is to get their hands on the code and then have the pitcher realize it.
So it was of little surprise prior to Game 1, when St. Louis outfielder Jim Edmonds teased Sutcliffe about taking Schilling's struggles public.
"We had a good laugh about it," Sutcliffe said. "He told me he was yelling at the TV when I said that. I told him it was just me doing my job."
On Wednesday, Edmonds, like Schilling, downplayed the issue. As well as his conversation with Sutcliffe.
"I think it's something the media is making a bigger deal out of than it's really worth," the center fielder said. "If he shuts us out he's a great pitcher, if we score runs then he's a bad pitcher. Whatever happened to giving us credit? We have a great offense here. This team is not a joke."
Whatever the case, the mini-controversy didn't seem to bug Schilling on Wednesday. During the team's afternoon workout, he appeared comical and relaxed. During batting practice, he snuck his way into the "A" batting group with Matt Williams, Grace and Steve Finley. It was the first time Schilling had ever hit with Arizona's offensive leaders, which drew plenty of jabs from the Diamondbacks' big-stick heroes.
"Hey, Gracie," Williams called out. "Are we going to allow this?"
Schilling: "You have no say."
Grace: "We have no say? Hey. If you want to join us and you want us to hit like pitchers, fine. We'll remember that tomorrow."
All jokes aside, perhaps the biggest statement Schilling made on Thursday was one in which he didn't even open his mouth. A purple T-shirt that the pitcher wore read, "It's not what you accomplish in life that matters, it's what you overcome."
Wayne Drehs is a staff writer for ESPN.com.