Catching up

BOB ELLIOTT -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 10:10 AM ET

They played catch to ease the winter's rust out of their arms.

They backed up until they were playing long toss.

Eventually there were 200 feet between the two pitchers, Curt Schilling and David Wells.

Between them they have 397 wins, made 787 starts, a 3.14 earned run average, an 18-5 record in the post-season and four World Series rings.

And ... most importantly zero bloodied socks. At least yesterday morn when the two veterans gathered for the first time at the Boston Red Sox minor-league camp in Fort Meyers, Fla.

Schilling beat the New York Yankees with literally a blood-red right Sox in Game 6 of the American League Championship Series at Fenway Park.

Schilling knocked off the Yanks to force Game 7 yet he enters 2005 without a Cy Young award with him. He doesn't have Randy Johnson as he did with the Arizona Diamondbacks for four years and Pedro Martinez in 2004.

After having surgery on his right ankle three months ago, Schilling hopes to make the opening day start April 3 against the Yanks lefty Randy Johnson at Yankee Stadium.

Instead, of having a Cy Young winner to shoulder the load, Schilling has Wells, a former Yankee, to help him in crunch starts.

Wells will wear No. 3 -- a tribute to his idol Babe Ruth -- which he couldn't wear when he was with the Yankees in 1997-98 and 2002-03 since Ruth's number had been retired.

Schilling showed yesterday wearing a Tedy Bruschi jersey, a tribute to the New England Patriots linebacker who was rushed to hospital Wednesday.

"I'm closer every day I feel a little better, I've passed the major hurdles to date," Schilling said. "I have to guard against trying to rush. I'm close. It's healed, to the point where I can push it."

The Sox say whether a Schilling starts the opener is roughly 50-50. This is not Game 1 of the ALCS, but the first of 162.

While pitching coach Dave Wallace was watching, the man on the other end of Schilling's tosses gave a thumbs up.

"He threw free and easy," Wells said. "It was like playing catch with Billy Koch -- he throws so hard, he stings your hand. He has a heavy ball."

The euphoria in Sox nation with its first World Series title in 86 years has not died. Manager Terry Francona tried to put this season into perspective, saying: "we know what we did and not to diminish it, but it's in the past."

"We're going to have a target on our backs this season," Francona said.

Since the Series ended Jason Varitek, Trot Nixon and Schilling of the Brash Sox have all knocked Yanks' Alex Rodriguez.

"As a whole, our team has been modest in victory and respectful of the Yankees," Red Sox GM Theo Epstein said. "I'm sure it's a blip and it will pass. Our guys are very, respectful of the Yankees.

"I've always enjoyed the Boston-New York rivalry on the field, we played each other 26 times the previous two season. I never liked the off the field stuff, it was extra curricular."

Epstein recalls how close Boston's October winless steak came to being extended.

"We knew" Epstein said, "down 3-0 in the ninth inning, trailing by a run against the best closer in World Series history."


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