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Francona hire in the cards and Sox may have an ace up their sleeve in Schilling

Terry Francona is poised to become the 44th manager of the Red Sox, pending the outcome of a physical this morning, even as Boston general manager Theo Epstein is planning to fly to Arizona tonight to persuade Diamondbacks ace Curt Schilling to waive his no-trade clause, triggering a deal that would make the 37-year-old righthander a member of the Sox.

Francona's hiring is expected to be announced next Tuesday.

"I think they're going to name me manager, I believe that, I hope they do, but I don't think it will be tomorrow," said Francona, who is scheduled to be examined this morning by team doctor Bill Morgan and expects to allay any lingering concerns the team may have about a blood-clot condition last winter that nearly proved fatal.

"I'm not even bringing a sports coat," said Francona, who plans to fly here this morning from his home in Philadelphia. "I asked Theo, `Should I come casual?' and he said yes."

The two major developments -- Francona's hiring and the prospective trade for Schilling -- are not unrelated. Schilling said yesterday that his willingness to go to the Sox as part of a deal that would send lefthander Casey Fossum, righthander Brandon Lyon and two minor leaguers, lefthanded pitcher Jorge de la Rosa and outfielder Michael Goss, will depend heavily on whether the manager is Francona, for whom he played in Philadelphia for four seasons (1997-2000).

Last night, the Sox also were wooing free agent closer Keith Foulke, who this past season with Oakland led the American League with 43 saves, went 9-1 with a 2.08 ERA, and like Schilling has a prior relationship with Francona, who was the A's bench coach last season. Foulke attended last night's Celtics game as a guest of Epstein, who when asked about a Schilling trade had no comment.

Earlier in the day, Epstein and Sox CEO Larry Lucchino spoke with Rangers first base coach DeMarlo Hale, ostensibly interviewing him for the manager's job. Hale, the only minority candidate interviewed by the Sox for the managing job, worked with Francona in Texas in 2002, and could wind up a member of Francona's coaching staff.

"Terry is a huge part of this, if Terry gets the job," said Schilling, the former Red Sox farmhand who is due to be paid $12 million next season in the last year of his contract and is expected to seek a three-year extension from the Sox, which could have repercussions for the team in its dealings with its own pitchers whose free agency is looming, Pedro Martinez and Derek Lowe.

"He's the No. 1 attraction there for me," said Schilling, who spoke by phone and later held an impromptu press conference outside his Arizona home. "If he's not the manager there, my interest in going to Boston would diminish drastically. I love playing for him, I enjoyed playing for him. I knew where I stood with him when I walked through the door. He didn't get dealt a full deck when he was in Philadelphia. He's up there with the people I played for in terms of respect factor. That will play a big part in my decision."

Schilling tried to distance himself from any perception that he was playing a role in the naming of the new Sox manager.

"Unfortunately, people are going to put a real bad spin on this," Schilling said. "I only made myself available to the Diamondbacks [for a trade to Boston] when I understood Terry was the No. 1 candidate there after a lot of interviews. It would be disrespectful to insinuate otherwise that I'm the reason he was going to get the job.

"Talk to [Arizona executives] Jerry Colangelo and Joe Garagiola Jr., and I guarantee you they will tell you only phenomenal things about Terry Francona."

Francona, in large part because of lobbying by Schilling, was interviewed for the Arizona job after he was fired by the Phillies. The D-Backs hired Bob Brenly instead, and won the World Series in Brenly's first season there, 2001.

Schilling, who acts as his own agent, said he was informed by the commissioner's office yesterday that he had been granted a 72-hour window in which to attempt to come to terms on a contract extension with the Sox and waive his no-trade clause. Because of the Thanksgiving holiday, Schilling said, the deadline to reach a deal is 5 p.m. Friday.

Schilling was just 8-9 last season, but missed six weeks with a fractured right hand after being struck by a line drive May 30. He still ranked fifth in the league with a 2.95 ERA and fifth in strikeouts with 194. His strikeout-to-walk ratio of 6.06-1 ranked first in the National League. Among pitchers active in 2003, Schilling ranked fifth in strikeouts with 2,542, just ahead of Martinez (2,426).

In strikeouts-per-nine-innings, Martinez ranks third (10.50) to Schilling's fifth (8.85), while in opponents' on-base percentage, Martinez ranks No. 1 (.268) and Schilling No. 2 (.282).

Schilling's addition to the staff would give the Sox a formidable 1-2-3 combination in Martinez, Schilling, and Lowe, who has won a total of 38 games the last two seasons.

Originally, Schilling told the Diamondbacks he would waive his no-trade clause for just two teams, the Phillies and Yankees. But the Yankees balked at an asking price that reportedly included Alfonso Soriano and/or Nick Johnson, while the Phillies were reluctant to part with the three major league-level players the Diamondbacks wanted. But Arizona, which is trying to cut payroll, is apparently willing to take less from the Sox -- moving Schilling should allow the Diamondbacks to turn around and make a deal for Brewers slugger Richie Sexson -- and Schilling said he has fewer concerns about the Sox.

One was that, as a fly ball pitcher, Fenway Park would not be ideal for him. "But then I found out that Fenway Park is a worse home run park than the BOB [Bank One Ballpark in Arizona] is," Schilling said.

Another concern may not be as easily assuaged. Schilling is a bitter critic of Questec, the electronic system being used to evaluate umpires that in his view and that of many others unduly influences the way umpires call balls and strikes. Questec is used on a full-time basis in Fenway Park, which is a clear disadvantage, Schilling said, for a control pitcher like himself.

"The system is not what [Major League executive] Sandy Alderson claims it to be," Schilling said. "I can pitch when there is a legitimate strike zone."

Schilling insists he will not make his decision based solely on dollars.

"The financial aspect of this whole thing is not one of the higher priorities," said Schilling, who was originally drafted by the Red Sox and traded to Baltimore with outfielder Brady Anderson for Mike Boddicker. "I'm going to get a deal that will pay me what I'm worth in my mind. [The Red Sox] could walk through the front door with a piece of paper that says they'll pay me $20 million a year for three years but I won't sign it.

"We'll go where my wife and I decide is best for us. The money I get in this next contract is money on top of money I can't spend."

What is more important, he said, are issues like whether Francona will be the manager, and the opportunity to be part of the Sox-Yankee rivalry.

"A big part of this is the chance to be part of the biggest rivalry in the history of sports," Schilling said. "It doesn't matter what side of it you're on. It's Cowboys-Steelers 19 times a year, times 10. Nothing in the world can compare to that."

Francona, meanwhile, said he is fully recovered from a series of life-threatening blood clots that materialized after he had knee surgery last November. The 44-year-old Francona, who played 11 seasons in the big leagues as a first baseman and outfielder, said he'd already had 11 knee surgeries when he went in last fall for an arthroscopic procedure. Ten days later, he flew to Seattle to interview for the Mariners' managing job (which eventually went to Bob Melvin).

"I got off the plane and thought I'd had a heart attack," Francona said. "I didn't sleep, and when I got to the interview, I missed a couple of questions from Pat Gillick."

Upon his return home, Francona said, doctors discovered a blood clot had gone to his lungs. He was given blood thinners and the problem was thought to be under control, but complications developed. He had staph infections in both knees, which required an additional four surgeries, he said, and then developed serious hemorrhaging in his leg that ultimately required an additional two operations.

He was sent home after Thanksgiving, but more clotting ensued and he was hospitalized until Christmas Eve. In all, he said, he underwent eight operations last winter. On more than one occasion, he said, the situation was life-threatening.

"I called [A's manager] Ken Macha and told him he'd better find another coach," Francona said. "I told him I couldn't walk to the refrigerator. I was taking pain-killers that would knock your socks off."

But Macha encouraged him to come to camp in Arizona, and Francona said his strength returned, slowly at first ("The first week, all I could do was pick up a ball") but eventually to the point where he was able to perform all of his duties.

"I do an hour of cardio work a day now," he said, "not like a 20-year-old, but I have enough energy to do this job."

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