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October 23, 2004

Under The Knife

The Fall Classic

by Will Carroll

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Can we end all the "Red October" nonsense now? Like "the curse," it's just lazy.

For medheads, the most interesting red was the blood and "serosanguinous fluid" on the sanitary sock of Curt Schilling. The surgical intervention that the Red Sox medical staff performed to get Schilling through Game Six may be the biggest medhead story of all time, proof that one change in the injury status of a team changes everything. The Yankees knew going into Game One that Schilling was going to have a hard time and used that information to pound him. Like everyone, they didn't know about the three sutures that held together both the ankle of the ace and the hopes of the Red Sox Nation in Game Six. This series is scouted six ways to Sunday, so let's cover the part we do here at UTK.

Powered by a couple nights of normal rest, on to the injuries…

  • There's little more that I can say about the Schilling injury that hasn't been written elsewhere. It's not just a medhead story, it's one that will become part of baseball's lore. Schilling reportedly underwent the same procedure Friday, having the tendon held in place with three sutures. It's unclear why the procedure was done early; then again, there's no clear confirmation of when the original procedure was done. There's plenty of covering going on surrounding the procedure, with varying descriptions and details.

    All that concerns most fans, however, is whether the procedure will allow Schilling to pitch well in Game Two. As with any new procedure, in the absence of solid medical evidence it is difficult to make anything but guesses. It worked in Game Six, so there's no evidence that it won't work again, leaving Schilling's effectiveness to the vagaries of the game itself rather than injury. It does appear that since two of the three sutures popped during the outing that Schilling is truly taxing the suture's strength on every pitch. Were all three to come loose, Schilling would be back in the state he was in Game One of the ALCS, not a good place to be. Schilling also "ran down" quickly, not getting the full push and putting more stress on his arm. Five or six good innings may be enough. The creativity shown by the Red Sox medical team is a marvel.

  • Watch Trot Nixon closely in this series. Nixon is still feeling the effects of a lingering quad strain, one that some observers think is deteriorating. "Watching him come out of the box is painful," said one scout who watched closely. The Red Sox have other options in Gabe Kapler and Dave Roberts, though the Red Sox certainly get more hitting out of Nixon. Expect defensive replacements in Boston, with Kevin Millar in right field for at least one of the games in St. Louis.

  • The rest of the team is healthy, leaving only questions of bullpen fatigue to be answered. Fatigue is one of the great unanswered mysteries of pitching, so there's no real answer here. Certainly, every pitcher is tired at this stage, and continued work at ALCS levels will leave them with next to nothing. Short, well-managed outings as well as judicious use of warmups should keep the pitchers effective, while adrenaline and desire will certainly help. Most closely watched will be Keith Foulke, if used in the same multiple-inning manner in which he was against the Yankees.

  • The Cardinals have been quite healthy through the playoffs with only minor injuries to the bullpen. Julian Tavarez overcame his Kevin Brown moment to pitch well. People are questioning his mental state more than his physical well-being. Steve Kline is very questionable due to an injured index finger. Kline's gout-like symptoms are diminishing, yet an unexpected move could come. Speculation that Chris Carpenter, the Redbirds ace through most of the season, could take Kline's spot in the pen stepped up after a mid-week bullpen session. Losing the lefty might hurt La Russa's endless matchup fetish. The decision on the bullpen spot will go down to the wire. Both choiced certainly have risks, though Tony La Russa doesn't seem too concerned whichever way he decides to go.

  • The #2 slot in the rotation is also up in the air. Jason Marquis is reportedly tipping pitches and his resistance to the suggestions of Dave Duncan may put him in the pen. Matt Morris and Jeff Suppan would slot up to Games Two and Three if Marquis is sent out, as the Cards insist that Carpenter and Dan Haren are not being considered as potential starters in any game. It would be surprising with this staff for La Russa and Duncan to shift to a three-man rotation. The off days on Friday and Monday gives Suppan normal rest, but would leave Woody Williams and Morris on only three days' rest for the final two games in St. Louis. There's a slight advantage to giving Morris a home game, though there's still no good explanation for his odd home/road split. I expect Marquis to get a start, somewhere.

  • Scott Rolen continues to have a knee problem and continues to smack the ball out of the yard. Through two series, the injury has had little or no effect on Rolen's offense, so color UTK convinced. His defense seems to have been affected slightly, leaving Edgar Renteria to turn it up a notch going to his right. Rolen's knee should hold up for another week, allowing him the entire off-season to worry about getting it right. While the risk is there of a breakdown, there's no evidence that anything but an unexpected trauma will bring down the big hitter. It's scary that he's just the third-best hitter on this team and still better than all but David Ortiz in the other dugout. (That's by VORP, so don't come blaming me for that ranking.)

  • Tony Womack is healthy enough to go squeezing home, yet his back remains a major concern for the Cardinals. The Cardinals indicated that Hector Luna would have received the Game Seven start if Womack had been unable to go. Add in some speculation that Marlon Anderson would DH and Luna could become the first Rule 5 pick to play a significant role in a World Series in memory. Back spasms, especially those related to a herniated disc, are both painful and recurrent. Womack's absence would, surprisingly, be a major negative for the Cardinals.

  • There's not much news in the rest of baseball. Jason Kubel injured his knee in the Arizona Fall League, perhaps a torn ACL. Expected to compete for an outfield slot in Minnesota, Kubel could spend as much as six months on the shelf depending on the severity of the tear. It's another example of the risks players take in fall and winter ball.

BP Radio will be up soon (with Rob Neyer and our correspondents) and the Medical Staff of the Year comes Monday. With two World Series games on the docket, I'm booked solid, but there's never enough baseball for this medhead.

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