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Thoughts turn to Coach 'Vuk'

Francona, Schilling hail friend, mentor

FORT MYERS, Fla. -- It was one of those days, Terry Francona said, he'd find himself enjoying the game, then his thoughts would drift to a man known universally to the baseball world as "Vuk": John Vukovich, the Phillies coach who died yesterday at age 59 of complications connected to an inoperable brain tumor.

"I don't think I could do a very good job to talk about the way I feel," Francona said. "It's confusing. You stand out there on the field doing the job you love, thinking that you wish time could stand still for a minute. It's just hard to figure out. He's a unique person you had to be around. He affected so many people in the game, myself included, and our hearts certainly go out to [his wife] Bonnie and her family."

Vukovich was Francona's third base coach the four years he managed in Philadelphia. He also was a coach with the Cubs when Francona played there. A couple of days before spring training, Francona slipped into a hospital in Philadelphia to see his old friend.

"I was absolutely the worst player on that team," Francona said. "He treated me like I was not the worst. If you were willing to work, he'd be willing to outwork you. He liked having an effect on players."

One of the players he affected most profoundly was Curt Schilling, who achieved stardom in Philadelphia.

"He was kind of a surrogate father to me," Schilling said. "My father died, and I did not have a dominant male figure in my life. He made an effort to get involved. There's no question in my mind I would not have stayed in the big leagues."

Schilling said he called Vukovich a month ago to leave a message and Vukovich unexpectedly answered and they spoke for a few minutes. "He was very close to my kids and my wife," Schilling said. "He was an incredibly integral part of my life and my career."

Schilling pitched the first four innings of a 1-0, split-squad loss to the Twins in Hammond Stadium. Francona, asked if he'd spoken with anyone regarding his performance, said: "Only Schill," then cracked, "I'll go on [his] blog and get the real deal." Schilling just launched his own blog.

Schilling gave up a run in the first on Joe Mauer's two-out single and a double by Torii Hunter over Wily Mo Peña's head, the only two hits he allowed. The most notable feature of his outing? "I threw 15 changeups," Schilling said. "Despite the fact it felt horrendous, I threw some good ones." Schilling said he has been refining the pitch and plans to add it to his repertoire this season. His worst pitch, he said, was a 3-and-2 changeup to Hunter for ball four after an extended at-bat, but otherwise he was satisfied with his outing.

Schilling's next two starts are not likely to come in exhibitions, given that they fall on days the Sox have road games against division opponents: Toronto (Dunedin) next Tuesday and Baltimore (Fort Lauderdale) a week from Sunday. Minor league games don't begin until next Friday, but Francona said they'll "invent" some kind of game for him to pitch in Tuesday.

One up, one down
The Sox had just three hits against the Twins, a double and single by Kevin Youkilis (.412) and a single by David Murphy . . . The Sox squeezed across a run in the bottom of the ninth to beat the Blue Jays, 3-2, doubles by Kerry Robinson and Jeff Bailey accounting for the winning run. J.D. Drew had two hits, including an RBI triple on which he scored after an overthrow. "I enjoyed watching him play today," Francona said. Kyle Snyder gave up solo home runs to John-Ford Griffin (who hails from the same hometown, Sarasota) and Jason Smith, one of four hits Smith had on the day. Joel Pineiro gave up a hit in one inning of work, but the runner was cut down stealing, while Julian Tavarez got five outs after throwing just one warm-up pitch upon entering the game. "Never seen that before," Francona said. "He continues to amaze me." . . . Daisuke Matsuzaka spent more than an hour signing autographs at City of Palms Park, an impressive performance . . . Yankees manager Joe Torre said he won't be bringing Andy Pettitte to face the Sox Monday. He wants to spare him the long bus ride, and he wants to keep the Sox from seeing him. The Sox will see Ross Ohlendorf instead. He was one of the guys the Yankees got in the Randy Johnson deal . . . Craig Hansen is scheduled to pitch an inning today in Clearwater, and Mike Timlin an inning tomorrow in Lakeland. Kason Gabbard will get the start in Clearwater, while Josh Beckett goes tomorrow in Lakeland (against Justin Verlander) . . . Matt Clement began his throwing program (short toss) yesterday . . . Tim Wakefield will start against the Yankees, while Jonathan Papelbon will throw a 50-pitch simulated game. Then Wakefield will get an extra day's rest, and Papelbon will slide into the No. 4 slot . . . Jon Lester will also throw a two-inning simulated game Sunday.

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