ATLANTA - Curt Schilling spent the past two seasons in the role of human tourniquet, winning 19 of 22 decisions when he pitched the game after a Diamondbacks loss.
The D-Backs needed Schilling to stop the bleeding more than ever Sunday, since the Atlanta Braves had opened a large gash in Arizona's playoff hopes by scoring 10 runs in each of the previous two games.
Add in the challenge of opposing four-time Cy Young Award honoree Greg Maddux, and Turner Field provided the backdrop for Schilling to once again rise to the occasion.
“This is his kind of game,” catcher Rod Barajas said. “He's the guy who wants the ball. He wants to shut them down and put them back in their place.”
Schilling allowed one hit and struck out 12 in eight scoreless innings as the D-Backs snapped their three-game losing streak with a 2-0 victory. Closer Matt Mantei pitched into and out of trouble in the ninth inning to finish off the first shutout of the Braves since April 19.
Arizona remained four games behind NL wild card leader Philadelphia and 3 1/2 back of second-place Florida.
Schilling was so dominant that he did not allow a ball to reach an Arizona outfielder after the third batter of the game.
“I get a rush from going up against guys like Greg and teams like this,” Schilling said, “because no one expects you to do well. That's when I enjoy exceeding those expectations.”
Schilling (7-6) has a 1.26 ERA since the All-Star break, and 17 straight scoreless innings have reduced his overall ERA to 2.48, second-best in the National League. Arizona got a scare when he felt discomfort in his left knee in the eighth inning, but Schilling said later, “It's a little sore, but its fine.”
Trainer Paul Lessard was unable to duplicate the sensation by manipulating the leg and speculated it had been either the kneecap temporarily popping out of place or a cartilage problem.
“Right now it looks fairly decent,” Lessard said, adding that if Schilling has problems again today, he will get an MRI when the team returns home.
But that was about the only glitch for Schilling. As left fielder Luis Gonzalez said, “the one hit (Marcus Giles’ first-inning double) I probably could have caught if I had gotten there earlier.”
Alex Cintron, the only batter in Arizona's lineup who had never faced Maddux, hit his 10th homer in the seventh inning for the only run off either ace. Cintron doubled and scored on Barajas’ single off reliver Kent Mercker in the ninth for a key insurance run.
With one out in the bottom of the ninth, Giles walked and Gary Sheffield singled, bringing up Chipper Jones. In five career appearances against Mantei, Jones was 4-for-4 with two home runs and a walk.
After falling behind 2-and-0, Mantei came back to strike out Jones on a slider, and a strikeout of Andruw Jones ended the game.
All the while, Mantei told himself, “Schilling busted his butt to get this win today. Don't screw it up.”
Schilling's performance disguised the fact that Atlanta leads the NL in runs scored, homers and fewest strikeouts.
“Their offense is phenomenal,” he said. “Obviously it's execution against a team like this, but a lot of it is mindset. You've got to go in believing you have the ability to make pitches and get people out in situations, and you have to go out and do it.”
Said manager Bob Brenly: “You could just tell by the swings they were getting on him. We saw what this team is capable of offensively the last couple of nights, and they didn't get the same kind of swings today.”
The Braves’ two hits were a season low.
“You knew about the second or third inning,“ Atlanta's Mark DeRosa said, “he was on his game and it was going to be a battle.”