Call it the “Schill Factor.”
Like him or loathe him, for personal or professional reasons or anything in between, the one thing anyone could count on with Curt Schilling was, in a single-game situation, when a team needed a win, he was THE guy. Postseason or regular season, didn’t matter, he had the goods, the juice, the determination to get it done.
People remember the bloody sock game with Boston. But, honestly, that was old hat for Schill. He had been clutch in crucial situations for more than a decade by that time, whether doing his thing under the white-hot glare of the World Series with Arizona or merely stopping a losing streak in front of a few fans for some pretty lousy Phillies squads.
Whatever it was, whatever it is, Schill had “it” when things mattered.
Now, apparently, Detroit right-hander Justin Verlander has added “it” to his repertoire as well.
Already the most dominant pitcher in the majors, courtesy of an ultra-competitive streak and unbelievable skill that includes heat that hovers around triple digits when he wants it to, Verlander has taken his game, and his image, to new levels in just one week of the 2012 playoffs.
With a 78-31 mark, 2.94 ERA and 977 strikeouts in 953 2/3 innings combined the last four years, there had been little doubt as to how good the 29-year-old had become. He captured his first Cy Young following last season’s 24-win campaign and pitched his way into the discussion this season with a best-in-baseball 239 Ks, 2.64 ERA and 17 victories, too.
But the postseason … well, uh – put it this way: He hadn’t quite hit his stride yet.
With two starts in the AL Divisional Series against Oakland in the past week, it’s safe to say he has now. Just five days after securing Game 1 with a strong, seven-inning performance, the big fella locked things down Thursday night with a four-hit, 11-K shutout on the road in Game 5 that allowed the A’s to begin their offseason hunting, fishing and golfing pursuits and the Tigers to move into the AL Championship Series against the winner of this evening’s Yankees-Orioles contest in the Bronx.
Prior to his recent postseason exploits, Verlander had been pedestrian at best, going 3-3 in eight starts with a 5.57 ERA.
In 16 innings against Oakland, Verlander recorded 22 Ks, two wins and a 0.56 ERA.
Clearly, his brilliance between April and early October has now been stretched further into fall, where the Schill Factor is all the more important.
TWO TO GO
With Detroit already advanced in the AL, and San Francisco taking care of business in the NL, rallying from a 2-0 series deficit to knock off Cincinnati, two slots remain open in baseball’s final four – with both to be determined tonight.
New York hosts Baltimore at 5:07 p.m. with the victor then getting a crack at Verlander and Co.
Three and a half hours later, Washington, which cranked out the most wins in the sport this season with 98, will try to get by upstart St. Louis before a home crowd at Nationals Park.
Interesting to note, considering that some question the passion for the national pastime in the nation’s capital city, only 3,000 tickets remain less than 12 hours before opening pitch of that one … while more than 10,000 exist for Game 5 at Yankee Stadium.
Of course, the fact any tickets are available at this time could be a sign of the times that politicians may want to stop worrying so much about debates and concentrating more on acquiring their own Schill Factor.