The Phillies lost 92 games a season before, and few thought 1993 would be any different when the team reported to Florida for spring training. And then the team took part in its first workout, a routine 9 a.m. stretch.
“Jim Eisenrich threatened to shoot John Kruk with a bow. That was probably the tipping point for all of us,” said Curt Schilling, who was inducted onto the Phillies Wall of Fame on Friday night.
Every day that season was unique, Schilling said, especially the very first morning. The team opened the season with a sweep at Houston, which Schilling said made them believe they were the best team in the league. They sprinted out to a seven-game lead in the National League East by June 1 and captured the Phillies’ first division title in a decade.
Schilling finished the season 16-7 and started Game 1 of the National League Championship Series. Schilling struck out the first five batters he faced, and the team dropped Atlanta in six games to advance to the World Series. Toronto won that Series in six games, but Schilling kept the Phillies alive with a shutout in Game 5.
“You had 25 guys that were dying to be at the park with each other,” Schilling said. “And that’s special, that’s different.”
In 1997, Schilling struck out at least 10 batters in 17 of his 35 starts. He led the majors with 319 strikeouts and was selected for his first All-Star Game. A season later, Schilling racked up 300 strikeouts to lead the majors again.
But in 2000 he asked to be traded. The Phillies had not had a winning season since 1993, and their ace wanted to play for a contender. The trade shipped him to Arizona just before July’s trade deadline, bringing a package highlighted by Travis Lee and Vicente Padilla.
“I wish it had ended on a kinder, gentler, softer note,” Schilling said. “But I don’t know if there was the acrimony and the animosity that some believed there to be when I left here.”
He helped the Diamondbacks win a World Series in 2001 and almost returned to Philadelphia after the 2003 season before landing with Boston.
He pitched through an injured ankle and a famously bloody sock as the Red Sox rallied past the Yankees in the ALCS before winning the 2004 World Series. He retired in 2007, after helping Boston win another title.
John Kruk, Schilling’s teammate in 1993, said he was one of the best big-game pitchers. He was 11-2 in the postseason and six times he pitched eight innings or more. Those games, Schilling said, were a chance to give fans a reason to remember him forever.
But despite his postseason success, Schilling missed last January on his first try to be inducted in the Hall of Fame. He’ll be on the ballot again this winter, but stiffer competition awaits. Schilling said it is out of his control and does not “think one iota about it.”
“I’m done playing. I can’t do anything else,” Schilling said. “I’m not going to strike anyone out; I’m not going to win any more games. I did what I did, and if that gets me in there, awesome. I can’t allow that to be something that makes me unhappy.”
Contact Matt Breen at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow @matt_breen on Twitter.