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Pedro is the plan

Pitching roulette positions Martinez against A's ace Zito

In this game within a game of setting up a pitching rotation to get the best possible matchup at the most important time, the Red Sox couldn't be more pleased with their decision to hold off Pedro Martinez until tonight's deciding Game 5 in the Division Series in Oakland, Calif.

Sox general manager Theo Epstein concedes the Sox are the benefactors of a momentum shift following yesterday's 5-4 win, tying the series at 2-2. Tonight it's Martinez on four days' rest vs. reigning Cy Young winner Barry Zito on three days' rest.

It's the first head-to-head matchup between Boston's ace and Oakland's ace.

"I think in baseball the old saying is `Momentum is only as good as your next starting pitcher,' " Epstein said.

Trailing, 0-2, the game plan was simple: Win two at Fenway Park and take it back to Oakland with Martinez. What other game plan could there be? The Red Sox can thank a late revival of David Ortiz (a two-run double in the eighth) and Scott Williamson's lights out eighth and ninth, as reasons the Sox were happily scurrying to make a 5:20 p.m. bus to Logan for the cross-country junket.

Martinez, who didn't get a decision in Game 1 when the bullpen imploded, elected not to take the flight ahead and skip yesterday's game as he is accustomed. Instead, he volunteered to pitch in relief yesterday after warming up for a possible relief appearance Saturday night, which never developed.

Manager Grady Little told him thanks, but no thanks, and the stage is set for Martinez-Zito.

"We are very aware of what's in front of us," said A's manager Ken Macha, who has watched his team fall apart after two wins in Oakland. "Pedro is a great pitcher, and two Cy Young guys are going out there to pitch against each other."

Little concurred.

"It should be a good game," said the Sox skipper. "We like the guy we have on the mound. Like I said before the game, we had one team in one clubhouse that was kind of dreading the trip across the country, and people in our clubhouse looking forward to it. So here we go."

Martinez was never seriously considered to start Game 4. The Sox felt a combination of John Burkett, the rejuvenated bullpen, and the Sox offense could force a Game 5. The formula worked.

"It wasn't a difficult decision at all," said Sox pitching coach Dave Wallace. "[Martinez] had thrown 130 pitches [in Game 1], and it just wasn't a factor. He could have pitched one inning [Saturday] night when we were ahead, where he might have thrown 20 pitches or so, which would have been a little bit more than his normal pen."

Wallace said the Sox could have asked Martinez to do it, but "Why put it on a guy . . . I mean, sometimes you have to trust your own instincts. We want to hopefully keep him around to be in this situation this year and maybe next year. In fairness to the Boston Red Sox organization, you've got to be a little bit prudent in your decisions."

Epstein was certainly a big part of the Martinez Management Team. Epstein noted he was very happy with how Martinez was used last season, giving him extra rest whenever possible.

"Last year, I think Pedro only made nine starts on four days' rest," Epstein said. "Grady did a great job. Pedro has made 29 starts two years in a row. He's probably as strong now as he's been at any time in the last two years. We're dealing with a pitcher who has had shoulder issues in the past. It just makes sense to manage what you're going to get out of him and get the most out of him at the most important time. The track record of pitchers on three days' rest in general is not good. That alone, coming off 130 pitches, and the fact he hadn't done it his whole career, certainly went into making that decision."

If the Sox had lost, Martinez's next start likely would have come against Boston College in March, but instead he's looking at the A's tonight and if Boston wins, the Yankees in the American League Championship Series. Martinez might be hyped about the situation he's in, but Wallace doesn't think a matchup against Zito will change his focus or preparation.

"I think he has all of those emotions well under control," Wallace said. "His experience and his effectiveness in the playoffs has proven that. Knowing him like I have since he was 16 years old, his focus is to minimize the other team's lineup and not worry about anything else."

Wallace said he was not part of the decision that kept Martinez behind with the team. Zito elected the same course, though the A's had it in mind they were heading to New York instead of Oakland.

Wallace said there's no way to know how effective Martinez can be coming off a season-high 130-pitch effort, but the coach feels the ace's adrenaline will kick in to offset any bouts of fatigue. "Right now, it's turn him loose and let him go," Wallace said.

Martinez did not speak on the record yesterday, but did chat with some of his favorite beat writers. His apparent message was that he wanted to win this one tonight for the fans of New England.

Martinez was certainly one of the most instrumental figures in Boston's comeback from an 0-2 Division Series deficit against Cleveland in 1999.

Everything is aligned. Now if Martinez is vintage Martinez, the Sox have a chance to defy the odds once more and do what many thought was impossible -- win this series after dropping the first two games.

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