NEW YORK— Curt Schilling signed with Boston for this very reason — to silence the hated Yankees and pitch the Red Sox to that elusive World Series title.
"I'm not sure I can think of any scenario more enjoyable than making 55,000 people from New York shut up," he said Monday, a day before starting the opener at Yankee Stadium against Mike Mussina.
Before the first pitch was even thrown, the AL championship series had players buzzing. They thought back to the 45 intense meetings between the rivals during the past two years, to the on-field fights and the clubhouse boasts.
But in a series that seemed predestined since Aaron Boone's Game 7 homer off Tim Wakefield won last October's playoff in the 11th inning, there was an element of uncertainty for the Yankees this time. It centered on the status of closer Mariano Rivera, who returned to Panama on Sunday after two of his wife's relatives — a cousin and his son — were electrocuted in his swimming pool.
Though Rivera said he'd be on hand for tonight's game — "I am going back to New York tomorrow, after the funeral, and rejoin the team" — manager Joe Torre wasn't taking anything for granted.
"If he's here tomorrow, obviously, it would be wonderful," Torre said. "If not, we understand that."
Tom Gordon, his left eye still a little blurry after it was hit by a champagne cork in Saturday's clubhouse celebration at Minnesota, would take over as the closer if Rivera is absent. Tanyon Sturtze and Paul Quantrill would replace Gordon as the setup man.
While Gordon's good, he's not Rivera. No one else is.
"I never had a problem with it. I enjoyed closing," Gordon said. "Whatever it takes for this team to get a win."
Following Boston's first-round sweep of Anaheim and New York's 3-1 win over the Twins, Schilling and Mussina are rested heading into the opener. The Red Sox rotation has Pedro Martinez pitching Game 2 on Wednesday, followed by Bronson Arroyo on Friday at Fenway Park and Wakefield the following day in Game 4.
Jon Lieber and Kevin Brown follow Mussina for the Yankees, who still haven't decided between Orlando Hernandez or Javier Vazquez in the fourth game. El Duque, bothered by a tired arm, felt better Monday, when he threw about 60 pitches in a bullpen session, according to pitching coach Mel Stottlemyre.
Major league baseball decided Monday to move Game 5, the only scheduled afternoon contest of the series, into prime time, bumping the NLCS to the earlier time slot. They are the two biggest spenders in baseball, the Yankees at $186.4 million and the Red Sox at $128.1 million, according to the Aug. 31 payroll. Judging by the TV ratings, baseball fans are captivated by New York's Derek Jeter and Alex Rodriguez and Boston's Manny Ramirez and David Ortiz.
"I know this is what everyone was hoping for, I imagine," Mussina said. "I think it's the way it should be."
Schilling, acquired by the Red Sox from Arizona last November, plays for moments like these. He's won six straight postseason decisions since 1993, allowing two earned runs or fewer in all nine of his starts. He beat Mussina for the Diamondbacks in the 2001 World Series opener, then defeated him again on April 15 this year at Fenway Park.
"I don't know that I've ever pitched in a game that will have the atmosphere that tomorrow's game has. In Arizona during the World Series, it was electric," Schilling said, "but I think the Yankees and the Red Sox is a step above everything else."
Wearing a T-shirt with the words "Why Not Us?" Schilling talked about how he likes to quiet fans when he pitches on the road — especially Yankees fans still giddy following the seventh straight AL East title for New York (101-61) and the seventh second-place finish in a row by Boston (98-64).
"It's going to be loud," he predicted. "It's going to be thunderous."
Schilling, who went 21-6 to lead the major leagues in wins, threw short tosses Monday, a day after testing out an injection of painkillers on his right ankle. Three years ago, he said the Diamondbacks weren't intimidated by the Yankees because "mystique and aura, those are dancers in a nightclub, those are not things we concern ourselves on the ball field." Then he watched New York hit tying two-run homers in the bottom of the ninth on consecutive nights to win Games 4 and 5 before Arizona rallied against Rivera in Game 7 to stop New York's streak of three straight titles.
He knows games like these define careers.
"You can make a name for yourself in one inning, one play, one pitch that you can't make in another series with any other teams," he said.
Schilling came to Boston primarily because of Terry Francona, his former manager in Philadelphia. Francona, who took over the Red Sox after Grady Little left Martinez in too long in Game 7, knew right away there was something special to this rivalry.
"I started to feel that in spring training when there was a line at 6 a.m.," he said. "I had people yelling at me because we didn't play all our regulars."