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MICHAEL HOLLEY

Sit-down must be a sales conference

Let's face it, most of us have had it up to here with talk of data and quantitative analysis. It can be fun in the beginning, but eventually you want to sit down with your buddies and talk baseball -- with no laptop presentation required.

That's exactly what Theo & The Trio will have to do between now and Friday if they are going to lure Curt Schilling to Boston.

We all know that Theo Epstein, Larry Lucchino, John W. Henry, and Tom Werner have brilliant pedigrees. Harvard, Yale, and Princeton are represented in the Red Sox front office. There's a wizard of financial trends among them. They even have the producer of one of the most successful sitcoms ("The Cosby Show") in the history of television.

But their most important task now -- other than keeping Shea Hillenbrand out of Schilling's ear -- is to be salesmen.

They're going to have to roll up their sleeves and buy one of the game's best power pitchers the drink of his choice. They're going to have to look him in his eyes and tell him how intensely they and their fan base feel about winning a World Series.

They can remind him that the Sox' season ended more than a month ago, and the team still refuses to be pushed to the margins of sports pages, talk-radio shows, and late-night wrapup programs on the tube. The subjects have ranged from Grady Little to Terry Francona to Alex Rodriguez. The moods have been apoplectic (Grady), indifferent (Francona), and dreamy (A-Rod).

They have to tell him that nothing has been as uplifting as the possibility of Schilling moving to Fenway Park.

It has become common to call Pedro Martinez the Sandy Koufax of his generation. If Schilling agrees to leave Arizona and waive his no-trade clause, the modern Koufax will have his own Don Drysdale backing him up in the rotation.

No one on either side has a problem with the terms of the trade. The Sox would give up pitchers Casey Fossum, Brandon Lyon, and Jorge de la Rosa. They'd add minor league outfielder Michael Goss. In exchange for that package, the Diamondbacks would hand over a 37-year-old ace who would help make the Sox rotation one of the best in the American League.

Of course, the salesmen will have to mention the chess game in their pitch. Schilling already has the right idea, comparing Sox-Yankees to Cowboys-Steelers in the 1970s.

He said he imagines the rivalry will be like that 19 times a season, multiplied by 10.

He's right. This is not a contest among friendly gentlemen. If it were football, members of both front offices would constantly be flagged for personal fouls and unsportsmanlike conduct.

Everyone who follows these things knows what's going to happen next. If Schilling arrives in Boston, George Steinbrenner will implore his baseball people to come up with either Javier Vazquez or Bartolo Colon. Or both. Give the principal owner of the Yankees credit for realizing that the Sox are no longer playing the role of the little brother who is a dollar short. These two really are in a league of their own.

It may be a coincidence, but Francona will be in town this morning to take a physical with the Sox. That gives him enough time to accept Boston's managerial offer and join his new bosses on their recruiting trip to Arizona. Schilling says great things about Francona, and Francona -- who managed the dominating pitcher in Philadelphia -- is equally complimentary of Schilling.

Francona wasn't impressive as a Philly skipper, but he never had anything like this. He never could dream about his two best starters having a combined 4,968 strikeouts in their careers. He never had two pitchers with such exceptional control. Martinez's career high in walks is 70, and he hasn't done that since he was in Montreal. Schilling has issued as many as 61 walks in a season; he's allowed 65 the last two seasons combined.

The new manager knows how hard it is to get the ball out of Schilling's hands. He knows he has a 6-foot-4-inch, 235-pound pitcher who has innings-pitched numbers that read like very good bowling scores: 268, 259, 256, 245.

Schilling has a career ERA of 3.33.

He has a World Series ring.

He is familiar with nonstop fan and media attention and the mania of the East Coast.

He knows about preparation and has been known to compile his own charts and video on hitters who have done well against him.

He will understand the importance of the Jimmy Fund because he is quite charitable himself. He has devoted a lot of time and money to ALS research (he has a son named Gehrig).

Somehow, Boston's baseball travelers are going to have to get him here.

As they have their drinks, they should mention how serious they are about protecting the precious work of their starting pitchers. Like everyone else in baseball, Schilling must have heard about the failed committee of closers. He'll want to know how the Sox plan to fix that in 2004.

That's when the potential Bostonian can be told about the courting of Keith Foulke. In fact, Schilling can be told how his own presence could help everyone. It could inspire Martinez and take pressure off Derek Lowe. It could make a very capable No. 5 starter out of Byung Hyun Kim. It could prove how correct Lucchino was when he said that the Sox would not be a "stat-geek organization" but rather a team of balanced mixers and matchers.

It's not about stats now. It's about selling. It's about going to the desert and walking away with a handshake agreement.

That would do wonders for Francona's sleep, Fenway's ticket office, and the Sox' most objective number of all: wins.

Michael Holley is a Globe columnist. His e-mail address is holley@globe.com.

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