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A Little second-guessing

Sox manager faces hard times

During the Red Sox-Yankees series the Globe is exchanging sports columns with the New York Times.

Don't blame Grady.

That was the message from Pedro Martinez last night after the Red Sox lost the pennant to the Yankees yet again.

But people will blame Grady Little, the Boston manager, and they will have a point.

In the long and grim winter that is sure to come soon in New England, the fans will question why Little left Martinez in for a pounding in the eighth inning, when he was long past his usual limit.

Ninety-eight pitches. That was the average number per game for Martinez this season -- the season that ended last night.

Martinez faded in throwing 123 pitches, most of them brilliant, but once again, New York trumped New England in the American League, by a 6-5 score in 11 innings, thereby winning its 39th pennant.

Martinez is known to need special care and handling. Boston managers have long since learned to give him his full four days of rest, which was why he and Roger Clemens were matched once again last night after their emotional duel last Saturday in Boston.

Clemens was gone in the fourth inning. Martinez pitched seven strong innings, giving up two home runs to Jason Giambi. And then he came out for the eighth.

"I would refuse to give up the ball if you asked me," Martinez said afterward, standing graciously to face the news media in a hushed Boston clubhouse. "I am the ace of the staff. This is no time to say I am tired."

The Red Sox always observe the pitch count for Martinez. They want him at his sharpest, and do not want to wear him down. However, he got up to 130 pitches in the first round against Oakland.

Last night, the Sox had a 5-2 lead in the bottom of the eighth. Up in Boston there was reason to start preparing the lobster rolls and clam chowder for the World Series parties, to celebrate beating their old rivals.

He got one out in the eighth. Then Derek Jeter doubled. There was activity in the bullpen, which has been excellent in this postseason. Little has not been able to establish a dependable closer, but he has juggled his staff, wearing down Oakland, sticking with the Yankees. No wonder Little was inclined to stick with the man who has won three Cy Young Awards.

When Bernie Williams followed with a single for a run, Little came running out to the mound from the third base dugout, and patted Martinez. "He asked me if I had any bullets in my tank," Martinez said. "I said I had enough."

After Little went back, Hideki Matsui hit a ground-rule double to right. Still no relief pitcher. And then Jorge Posada, a switch hitter, dunked a double into right-center field for two runs to tie the score. Then Martinez was removed, with the pitch count at 123.

Grady Little had gone with his slender, somewhat fragile ace. It was a decision based more on loyalty and emotion than logic.

The Red Sox would lose later, because the Yankees had Mariano Rivera and the Red Sox do not. But this game will always be remembered in New England for Little letting Martinez stay in the game.

"Pedro Martinez has been our man all year long in situations just like this. He's the man we want on the mound, more than anyone in our bullpen," Little said in his postgame news conference.

What did Little ask of Martinez on his trip to the mound?

"Pedro wanted to stay in there," Little said. "He wanted to get the job done, just as he has many times for us all season long, and he's the man we all wanted on the mound."

The moderator of the news conference asked if there were any other questions for Little. There were none. It was the only question. Why? Why? Why? The scream echoes like the New England wind.

Did Little have any justification? In the biggest game of the year, you leave nothing behind. It could mean trotting in Mike Mussina and David Wells in relief, as Joe Torre did for the Yankees, because he knew he had Rivera waiting. Pedro Martinez was an ace in search of a defining game. Boston was in search of a pennant. Neither happened.

It means nothing now that Martinez outlasted Clemens, who has won 310 games and six Cy Young Awards. Clemens, who is about to retire, could have pitched his last game, but now he will get his rest and pitch in another World Series, his fourth. Martinez still has none.

Martinez sat in front of his locker after it was over.

"You spend a whole season with these guys, it hurts," Martinez said.

He said he respected the Yankees, with whom he had a contentious outing last Saturday in Boston. And he said he knew the "fans in Boston have to be heartbroken, as we are."

Then Martinez defended his manager for leaving him in.

"I wouldn't put Grady on the spot," he said. "Grady didn't play. I was the one playing. If you want to judge anybody, I was out there. Grady did a great job of managing."

That is not what people will be saying as they remember this game, this season. They will remember an ace pitcher who went longer than he almost ever goes, and the manager who let him.

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