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DAN SHAUGHNESSY

Ace's breaking pitch appears to be outside

FORT MYERS, Fla. -- Another bizarro day at the Red Sox spring training site.

At 7:30 a.m., Curt Schilling went on his user-friendly radio program to announce that contract extension talks had broken off and he'll be a free agent after the season. Two-and-a-half hours later, owner John W. Henry said Schilling's announcement was news to him, but at lunchtime general manager Theo Epstein confirmed the breach and demonstrated the bloodlessness of a young Bill Belichick.

And while all that was going on, fans and writers continued to play the popular Florida parlor game, "Where's Manny?"

I've said it before and I'll say it again: Covering this team is like doing layup drills on an 8-foot rim.

There's been a lot of competition for headlines this spring and Schill has had to work overtime to reach the gold medal platform. The Daisuke Matsuzaka circus covers two continents and 14 time zones. Dice-K Mania never, ever sleeps. Meanwhile, in absentia, Manny Ramírez has pushed his name into the news and dropped needy Schill to the back of the leaderboard.

But the Big Blowhard roared back into the headline-hogging lead early yesterday with another bombshell on his paid radio gig. This marked the second time in a month that Schill took to the airwaves to shock Sox Nation (wonder if he'll go on WEEI to declare his candidacy for the Senate?). On Jan. 29, he announced plans to pitch in 2008. This contradicted what he'd been saying for the last year, but fans were happy to hear that the big lug was going to keep pitching. Then he declared that if the Sox didn't sign him by the end of spring training, he would test the free agent waters.

The Sox front office was shocked when Schilling went on the radio with this announcement and his gun-to-the-temple timetable was not well received by Messrs. Henry, Lucchino, and Epstein. When Schill showed up in Florida, it was clear he'd spent the winter on the Serena Williams fitness plan and it didn't take long for management to decide they'd rather not invest $13 million for a 41-year-old Curt Schilling in 2008.

According to Schilling and Epstein, the two talked for about three minutes Wednesday and Epstein informed the hurler the team would not be extending his contract. Epstein said Henry was apprised of the meeting. This makes it difficult to understand why Henry claimed he knew nothing of the situation when he walked out to watch practice just after 10 a.m. yesterday.

Informed of what Schilling said on the radio, Henry said, "Talks are over? Wow, that was quick. That's news to me. You seem to know more about it than I do. If he says it's over, I guess we have to take him at his word." Henry then approached assistant GM Jed Hoyer and asked him about Schilling's status. Shortly after Hoyer told Henry what Schilling said on the radio, the owner engaged in a one-on-one discussion with Schilling. From a distance, the exchange seemed less than amicable.

"Of course, we were aware of what position we were taking with respect to him," said president and CEO Larry Lucchino. "But [we] weren't aware that Schilling had made any statements about it. I think we are professional enough and he is professional, so this won't be any kind of distraction."

Epstein said, "The only surprise factor was the radio interview this morning. None of us knew what was going to happen."

Emotion played no part in the club's decision to let Schilling play out his contract. This was strictly business.

"There's a bit of a sliding scale based on age," said the GM. "The deeper you go into your career, the more hesitant the club might be to guarantee salaries years in advance. Curt's going to be 41 and at that age we get a little more conservative . . . It doesn't make sense from a business standpoint right now to guarantee that kind of money a year in advance to a 41-year-old."

It was pretty clear the ball club has concerns about Schilling's conditioning. He's carrying a lot of weight for a 40-year-old athlete with a reconstructed ankle.

"[Conditioning] is always a factor for every player," said Epstein. "The older you get, the better condition you've got to stay in. He's working hard and he'll be where he needs to be on Opening Day."

"It's disappointing," Schilling acknowledged. "But that's the way it works sometimes. It's a business . . . There was no offer. It's not going to happen.

"Like it or not, you've got to live with it."

Schilling bled for this team in 2004. Literally. Does he think the Sox are being ungrateful?

"No," he said. "It's a business."

This is far from over. Schilling is wounded the way Pedro Martínez was wounded throughout the 2004 season. He also loves pitching and playing in Boston. He's starting a business in our region and his busy wife seems to have found Boston to be a good fit for her numerous charity causes. Schilling made a bold play to get another year, but the Sox called his bluff and said, "Show us you can still do it." If he pitches well, the Sox still have a chance to sign him for 2008.

Dan Shaughnessy is a Globe columnist. His e-mail address is dshaughnessy@globe.com.

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