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Heartbreak again

Yankees beat Red Sox, 6-5, on 11th-inning homer to capture AL pennant

NEW YORK -- And so a new generation of New Englanders has learned the risk of rooting for the Red Sox.

They will tease you for months. They will tell you they are different from their forebears. They will claim that what happened before has nothing to do with them. They will make you believe this really is the year.

But in the end, they will fall and sometimes they will do it in excruciating fashion. The weight of the Boston uniform is always too heavy.

Meet the new Red Sox. Same as the old Red Sox. In perhaps the most painful game in franchise history -- no small statement given the Sox' penchant for macabre moments -- the Sox last night lost the American League pennant to their century-old nemesis, the New York Yankees.

Aaron Boone's 11th-inning, first-pitch, walkoff homer off Tim Wakefield at 12:16 this morning gave the Yankees a 6-5, Game 7 victory over the Sox, putting New York in the World Series against Florida, beginning tomorrow night. Naturally, Boone is the grandson of Ray Boone, a (retired) longtime scout with the Red Sox.

Cover your eyes, Sox fans -- it gets worse. Boston led, 4-0 in the fifth and 5-2 in the eighth. Like their Cub cousins earlier this week, the Sox were five outs away with a three-run lead. Champagne was chilling.

But before you could say Calvin Schiraldi, Pedro Martinez coughed up four straight hits, three runs, and the American League pennant. Maybe this was revenge for the night Pedro said, "Wake up the Bambino. Bring him back and I'll drill him."

Fittingly, Martinez was KO'd by a bloop two-run double to center by Jorge Posada. That's the same Posada who engaged in an angry exchange with Martinez during Game 3 after Pedro hit Karim Garcia. Pedro claimed he was telling Posada that he would remember everything that was said. Now Posada has given the Boston ace a new memory. A recurring nightmare.

It won't take days, weeks, or months to find the Game 7 goat. Say hello to Sox manager Grady Little, who joins Denny Galehouse, Johnny Pesky, Bill Buckner, Mike Torrez, John McNamara, the aforementioned Schiraldi, and Bob Stanley in the Sox collection of dartboard ornaments.

Little left Martinez in the game long after it was clear the fragile ace was done.

It was surprising to see Pedro start the eighth. With one out, he surrendered a long double to Derek Jeter, then a hard single by Bernie Williams.

Grady went to the mound. Relievers were ready. Nothing.

Hideki Matsui cracked a hard double to right. Still no hook from the manager. Martinez was left to face Posada, who more than evened the score in their personal war with the bloop double to center. That tied the game and finally Little came out to get Martinez.

"Pedro Martinez has been our man all year long and in situations like that, he's the one we want on the mound over anybody we can bring out of that bullpen," said Little. "He had enough left in his tank to finish off Posada."

The manager said Martinez told him he wanted to stay in the game when he went out for the first visit.

Yankee manager, Joe Torre said, "Obviously, he wanted to stay in. It would be tough for any manager to say no . . . hen it's Pedro Martinez."

There was an air of inevitablilty after the fateful Yankee eighth. The Sox weren't able to do anything with Yankee closer Mariano Rivera (three innings, 48 pitches) and it was just a matter of time before someone hit a walkoff homer off the weary Wakefield.

"For three innings I was waiting to see Manny [Ramirez] turn his back and watch a ball go into the stands," said Torre. "It finally happened."

This was easily Boston's most crushing loss since the sixth game of the 1986 World Series, when the Red Sox held a two-run lead with two outs and nobody aboard in the bottom of the 10th at Shea Stadium. In Sox-Yankee lore, it certainly belongs with the 1978 playoff game in which Bucky Dent hit the three-run homer and acquired a new middle name.

The Sox had a golden chance to make it to the World Series for the first time since 1986. They had a chance to become the first team to win Games 6 and 7 at Yankee Stadium since the 1926 St. Louis Cardinals. They had a chance to win a fifth-consecutive elimination game. They had a chance to win the World Series for the first time since 1918. Maybe it was a bad idea to paint the World Series logo on the Fenway lawn Thursday afternoon.

The Sox aren't going to the World Series because Grady fell asleep at the wheel and Pedro couldn't perform like a star when it counted. So now they go home to watch the World Series on television and we wonder if CEO Larry Lucchino will bring Grady back and we wonder if Nomar Garciaparra has played his last game for the Red Sox. Hard questions in the wake of a terrible defeat.

The 2003 Red Sox were an admirable bunch. Keep them in your hearts for a while. No group of athletes can be truly prepared for the larger forces that clearly have gripped this franchise and the one in Chicago.

The Red Sox-Cubs World Series America wanted won't happen. It's Marlins and Yankees tomorrow night. In the House That Ruth Built.

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