Lenny Megliola: Schilling in a familiar spot

Lenny Megliola

It had come down to this: The Cleveland Indians were guaranteed. The Red Sox weren't.

That was the scenario last night at Fenway Park. It was a long day's journey into night to settle Game 6 of the Championship Series.

For Curt Schilling, the 40-year-old Boston starter, this was a familiar scene, meaning the dire need for him to come up big was daunting. It always is when a pitcher is asked to prolong a season.

Schilling had been masterful at it with the Phillies, Diamondbacks and Red Sox. In games like last night, he was 3-0 with a 1.11 ERA.

The Indians starter, 23-year-old Fausto Carmona, was new to all this, this being his first playoff experience. If he didn't get it done, well, at least the Indians would have another chance.

Truth is, neither Carmona nor Schilling got it done when they hooked up in Game 2. Neither got through the fifth inning.

"Whatever happened last time, I've forgotten about it," Carmona said Friday.

The fact that he was pitted against Schilling and his impressive October resume didn't faze the hard-throwing righthander.

"I've got a lot of faith in myself. I'm not going to be intimidated by anything. I'm not thinking about Schilling. I'm thinking about the hitters I've got to face."

Boston fans have been blessed for a number of reasons. They have two undefeated football teams, the Patriots and Boston College, on which to focus.

The Celtics aren't expected to go 82-0, but for the first time in years, there is reason to believe they can make a run at The Finals. The surprising Bruins have come out of the gate winning and swinging (fists).

But who's kidding whom? The Red Sox getting bounced from the playoffs would put a damper on the whole thing.

Schilling gets it. He has thrived in the Hub's atmosphere for four years, even though the last two have not been personally kind. Age and body wear

have forced him to change his way of making a living. He no longer can blow a batter away. He's more apt to rely on stuff in the 85-88 mph range.

This is not an easy thing for a proud guy like Schilling to accept. It was out of character. You didn't expect Britney Spears to play Joan of Arc or Sinatra to croon rap.

Pitching in the big leagues is different.

Schilling's makeover may still be a work in progress, and there is the strong sense that he'll pick it up next spring with another team.

He spoke of making the adjustment. "If I had to look back at one thing that pretty much sealed the deal, it was the acceptance that I am what I am."

He can no longer bring the heat like Josh Beckett, 13 years his junior, can.

Schilling is happy for Beckett, and envious, too. He sees himself "going from what I felt like was a guy who had somewhat similar stuff to Josh's to

someone who doesn't have that stuff and has to manufacture outs and pitch differently."

Terry Francona has a history with Schilling going back to their Philadelphia days. But that was a different Schilling, young and a power pitcher. The

Red Sox manager could only hope Schilling's new approach could fool the Indians last night.

"He's a pro in every sense of the word," Francona

said Friday, "and at this time of the year that's comforting."

The Indians lost a chance to end Boston's season in Game 5 at home. Eric Wedge, their young manager, said "We felt this series was going to go pretty

deep. We really did."

All the way to Game 7?

Saturday night turned up unseasonably pleasant at Fenway. Beer vendors were doing unusually brisk business for an October night. The atmosphere was

electric well before Schilling threw the first pitch.

A Boston baseball season was on the line. Nobody was exempt from the disquieting feeling that evoked.

Lenny Megliola is a Daily News columnist. His e-mail is lennymegs@aol.com.