Curt Schilling started seven Opening Days, five with the Phillies and then two more later to end his career with Boston. He was at his absolute best in consecutive road openers for the Phillies from 1997-98 — not coincidentally his first two All-Star seasons — combining in those two season debuts for 16 shutout innings, four hits and 20 strikeouts. Let’s take a closer look at both:
April 1, 1997: That Phillies club opened with a 3-0 victory over the Dodgers at Chavez Ravine, Schilling’s greatest Opening Day effort. The only ball hit by Los Angeles in the air out of the infield was a lineout to left by Todd Zeile in the fifth inning. The two hits were grounders that got through. Ricky Bottalico closed it, 1-2-3. The 11 strikeouts by Schilling sent him well on his way to a season total of 319, and you can watch two videos here as he reached 300 for the first time and then set the National League record for most strikeouts by a right-hander in a season:
March 31, 1998: You’ll never forget this one if you were a fan of either the Phillies or the Mets that season. Schilling again went eight scoreless, this time striking out nine, locked in a duel with Bobby Jones (6 IP) and the Mets’ bullpen. This time, Schilling was long gone when the game was decided. It was still 0-0 in the bottom of the 14th when Alberto Castillo delivered a pinch-single to right off Bottalico to score Brian McRae.
Later that season, Schilling reached 300 strikeouts for the second year in a row, and you can watch that one as well as he throws gas by Kevin Orie of the Marlins:
Schilling made his final Opening Day start in 2007 at the age of 40, taking the loss opposite Gil Meche at Kansas City, but he would end the year in a style, getting the W in his finale. It happened to be Game 2 at Fenway Park during the Red Sox’ sweep of Colorado for a world championship on the way out.
The Countdown crew sends our best wishes to the Schilling family as he takes that same Opening Day bulldog mentality into his current fight against cancer that he made public last week. “I’ll embrace this fight, just like the rest of them,” Schilling said, “with resolute faith and head on.” He underwent surgery on Monday, according to his daughter Gabby, who tweeted that it “went really well” and that he is in recovery.