boston.com Sports your connection to The Boston Globe

Little stood by his man, for too long

NEW YORK -- Maybe it was that slap on the back. That tragic slap on the back.

Grady Little must have touched something that cast a spell on Pedro Martinez. Something must have come over Little or Martinez somewhere between the dugout and the mound.

Little came out of the dugout after Bernie Williams had driven home Derek Jeter with a single to center in the eighth inning, cutting the Sox' advantage to 5-3. Lefthander Alan Embree was warming up, and the way the Sox bullpen has been performing in the postseason, it was surprising to see Martinez staying in the game.

One out with perhaps the best pitcher in the game on the mound, and that pitcher wanted to stay in. Little granted his wish.

"Pedro is our man," said Little. "He's the one we wanted out there in that situation. He's the one we wanted over anyone else in our bullpen. Pedro wanted to stay in there, he wanted to get the job done as he had all season."

He gave him the slap on the back and retreated to the dugout.

In a nearly four-hour Game 7 that ended with Aaron Boone's first-pitch leadoff homer off Sox knuckleballer Tim Wakefield in the 11th inning, the game might have been lost three innings before.

It had already begun to unravel when Little sat back in the dugout and Martinez got ready to pitch again with a gaggle of lefthanded hitters due up, continuing his crusade for two more outs.

Hideki Matsui certainly wasn't going to be the one. He stroked a ground-rule double down the right-field line, sending Williams to third. Little stayed in the dugout. Up came Jorge Posada. The choice here was, let Martinez pitch to Posada or bring on Embree and make Posada bat righthanded. Little stayed in the dugout. It appeared Martinez cracked Posada's bat, but the Yankee catcher was able to bloop a double into center field, scoring two runs to tie it.

"Pedro made the pitches he wanted, he got the ball in on Posada, but he was able to squeeze it over the infield," Little said.

Martinez's stint was finally over.

As dominating as he'd been over the first six innings, there was no doubt his world began to unravel when Jason Giambi hit his second solo homer, in the seventh. David Wells had allowed a solo homer to David Ortiz in the eighth, staking Martinez to a three-run lead heading into the bottom of the inning.

On most nights, this was money in the bank for Martinez. He has not squandered many games in his career.

Martinez's 123d pitch was his last. Little then went to Embree, who retired Giambi for the second out. In came Mike Timlin with Enrique Wilson due up. Joe Torre countered with pinch hitter Ruben Sierra and Little ordered him walked intentionally with first base open.

Timlin, who rarely walks anyone, walked Karim Garcia, the No. 9 hitter, loading the bases. Alfonso Soriano nearly broke the game wide open on a hot grounder that hit the right side of the mound, but Todd Walker was able to make a play on it, ending the inning. All tied up, 5-5, with more to come.

And while Little will be roasted around the country for his decision to keep Martinez in, Yankees manager Joe Torre seconded the move.

"He's the best starting pitcher in the game. If he wants to stay in, he's going to stay in," said Torre. "It's tough for anybody to take a pitcher like that out. He fights you and battles you. We were able to get to him. Jorge, I don't know what he did differently against Pedro, but he's hit him well."

SEARCH GLOBE ARCHIVES
 
Globe Archives Today (free)
Yesterday (free)
Past 30 days
Last 12 months