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Schilling’s Ankle a Major Worry

Times Staff Writer

If there was any question as to the seriousness of Curt Schilling’s ankle injury, William Morgan, the Boston Red Sox team physician, removed any doubt Wednesday.

“If this was midseason, and we had a few months to play with,” Morgan said of Schilling, who was rocked for six runs in three innings of the American League championship series opener Tuesday night, “he would have been placed in a cast and potentially undergone surgery.”

Schilling appears highly doubtful for the rest of the postseason after the Red Sox acknowledged that the veteran right-hander had ruptured the membrane surrounding a tendon in his right ankle, an injury the ace suffered in a division series win over the Angels on Oct. 5.

The Red Sox had a custom brace designed for the ankle and injected Schilling with an anesthetic, but once Schilling took the mound in Game 1, the membrane surrounding the tendon began “snapping out of position” and became unstable, Morgan said.

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Schilling, who will undergo surgery on the ankle after the season, was unable to drive off his back foot and make his normal stride toward the plate. The velocity of his fastball dipped, he had no command of his breaking ball, and the Yankees took full advantage, rapping six hits off Schilling in a 10-7 victory.

A 21-game winner, Schilling was supposed to be the difference-maker for Boston this week, the front-of-the-rotation hammer that would enable the Red Sox to avenge league championship series losses to the Yankees in 1999 and 2003.

But unless the Red Sox can devise a more effective bracing system for the ankle between now and Sunday, when Schilling is scheduled to start Game 5, Schilling will be pulled from the rotation and replaced by Derek Lowe, who was demoted to the bullpen to start the playoffs.

“If we can get Curt’s ankle stabilized to the point where the tendon stays in one place and he’s able to have balance and drive and an effective delivery, then he’ll go out there and start Game 5,” Boston General Manager Theo Epstein said.

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“If we can’t get him to the point where the ankle is stabilized, then he won’t pitch, because then we would risk further injury to his shoulder and he would be ineffective.... As you saw [Tuesday] night, any pitcher who has to pitch without his legs underneath him, who can’t properly balance and stay aligned on the way to home plate can’t be effective.”

Morgan said there is no risk of further damage to the ankle if Schilling pitches; it’s more a matter of whether the flapping membrane affects his mechanics and focus.

Though losing Schilling, who was 1-0 with a 1.69 earned-run average in three World Series starts for Arizona against the Yankees in 2001, would deal a considerable blow to Boston’s World Series hopes, Manager Terry Francona was not about to use the probable loss as an excuse.

“If we’re not able to overcome some adversity, whether it’s Schill getting beat in Game 1, if that’s all it ends up being, or it ends up being more than that; if we’re not able to overcome it, we’re not a good enough team,” Francona said. “I don’t think anybody in that locker room, including myself, thinks that’s the case.”

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Echoed Red Sox catcher Jason Varitek: “We’ve got to go, we’ve got to move on without him. We have some guys we can hand the ball to. By no means does this deflate this team.”


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