The non-denial denials had become so commonplace that reporters failed to even ask any Schilling-related questions during Saturday morning's pregame interview session in Francona's office at Angel Stadium. That seemed strange, considering the fact that Schilling had thrown two perfect innings, struck out four and earned the win to conclude Friday night's 4-3, 10-inning Red Sox victory over the Angels.
"He wasn't throwing that hard, but he was spotting his pitches real well," Angels manager Mike Scioscia said after the game.
In other words, he had the rhythm of say, a starter, mixing his cutter and fastball, with a top scoreboard reading of 92 mph.
"That's what I was trying to do," said Schilling, who had been awful lately in his temporary role as a closer, having logged an 8.31 August earned run average for his eight previous appearances. "I used all my pitches as I would if I was a starter. I located well. Had command. All the things you're doing normally when you're pitching well."
With some mirth, Epstein didn't let reporters leave Francona's media session without popping the Schilling question, telling the group: "You've asked the same question for two months, but you didn't ask it today."
After Francona spilled the beans, he was asked when the triumvirate that includes himself, Epstein and pitching coach Dave Wallace had come to that decision.
"If I told you that I'd have to kill you," said the man who is nicknamed "Tito" after his ball-playing father, tongue planted firmly in cheek. "Actually, we've all talked a lot about it for a while now and together we decided that this is the best way to get him back in."
"The way he pitched last night had something to do it," Epstein said.
Whatever the timing, it is the right decision for all concerned.
Francona had to push back Tim Wakefield because the right-hander sustained a nasty contusion in his lower right shin when he was hit with a line drive on Thursday night and had to leave the game. David Wells will soon have to sit for either all or part of his six-game suspension for barking profanity at an umpire. An appeal hearing is expected on Wednesday in Kansas City.
Schilling will have a chance to make seven starts before another probable run at the playoffs, making sure the surgically repaired tendon in his right foot is able to take the pounding of those 100-plus-pitch performances every five days.
"The frustrating thing about this has been that my foot has felt fine for a while now," said Schilling, who had noted on Friday that his foot is eight to 10 months away from being completely healed.
Schilling volunteered to replace Keith Foulke in the bullpen when the closer had surgery on his left knee on July 7. He has toiled in that unaccustomed role since coming back on July 14, pitching 20 games, accumulating a 4-3 record and nine saves.
The decision for Schilling to go into the bullpen was more from necessity than design.
Much was made of Schilling's heroics last postseason when he started Game 6 of the American League Championship Series against the Yankees and Game 2 of the World Series against St. Louis with a suture tying a tendon to the bone in his right ankle. Schilling bled through his Cooperstown-bound hose and won both games, allowing one earned run on eight hits in 13 innings.
But he couldn't hack it this spring as a starter after recovering from the offseason surgery to repair the tendon. Schilling missed the first two weeks of the season on the disabled list and then made three April starts in which he was 1-2 with an 8.15 ERA.
Ultimately he went back on the DL, where he remained until July 13. After two Minor League rehab starts, the Red Sox braintrust determined it might be a better idea to go in a different direction. Foulke was hurt and it seemed appropriate for all concerned, including Schilling, that he come back in the bullpen. After a few rehab appearances in that role, he was reactivated.
Since his return, Schilling has thrown 362 pitches, about 18 per game. That's three good starts in this day and age of the 100-pitch count.
Asked what kind of pitch count Schilling would be on Thursday when he makes his first start since April 23, Francona quipped:
"Between 40 and 100. Actually, there won't be a pitch count. It'll depend on how he feels. We'll discuss it. We'll see how hard the game is, that's for sure."
Schilling didn't think it would take this long. After 388 starts in his 15-year career -- regular season and postseason -- Schilling will have the jitters when he returns in that familiar situation on Thursday night.
"I'm anxious," Schilling said. "How far in am I going to go? I don't know. The game's going to dictate that more than anything."