Little leaves himself open after leaving Martinez in

October 17, 2003|By LAURA VECSEY

NEW YORK - Is that what divine retribution looks like? Is that The Curse at work? Or is that simply the Yankee way, with Joe Torre's stalwarts coming through when they must?

That was Jorge Posada driving in two runs in the eighth inning to tie the game at 5. That was Derek Jeter setting the table. That was Jason Giambi, dropped from cleanup to No. 7 just for this decisive Game 7, blasting two homers. That was Mariano Rivera, going three innings for the win. And that was Aaron Boone hitting a home run in the 11th inning to help deliver the Yankees their 39th American League pennant.

Torre yanked starter Roger Clemens after three innings.

Red Sox manager Grady Little stuck with Pedro Martinez so long, it will be remembered in infamy, for eternity.

It had to end this way, didn't it? The October in which all the baseball curses were going to get purged from the collective psyche of baseball fans everywhere - but particularly Chicago and Boston - it had to come down to this.

An eighth-inning collapse at Wrigley Field doomed the Cubs in that stunning Game 6 against the Florida Marlins, after Chicago was ahead by three runs with five outs left to secure. Last night, at Yankee Stadium, the same scenario. The Red Sox were up three runs with five outs left to secure, only to succumb to an eighth-inning display of baseball judgment so suspect, the new curse across New England won't be the Bambino's, but Grady's.

It's a question that will plague Grady Little. It's a fate that will taunt Red Sox Nation.

Why didn't this Red Sox manager, the one who didn't have a future in Boston to begin with after this season, pull Martinez in that fateful eighth, after the ace had already thrown close to 120 pitches?

This is a fragile arm, even if Martinez has a rock-solid psyche. But it was all about the arm, not Martinez's will to win - or rather - to beat the Yankees. This arm was the subject of ice packs, missed starts, four days' rest and strict pitch counts.

Why didn't Little stay with the program? Why didn't he stay faithful to the Red Sox bullpen, which had proved far more reliable in the nip-and-tuck AL Championship Series than anyone would have guessed, back when bullpen-by-committee was the big joke in Red Sox Nation?

Instead, there was Little, tempting the fates.

"Pedro Martinez has been our man all year long. He's the one we want on the mound. He had plenty left in his tank," Little said. "Pedro said he wanted to get the job done. He's the one we wanted on the mound."

Sure, the Red Sox were ecstatic to have him on the mound through those first seven innings, when his velocity hummed slightly higher the minute the Red Sox took the lead, knocking Clemens around and finally out before he could record an out in the fourth.

At that point, the Yankees were watching it all come apart. What had been billed as a epic duel between Clemens and Martinez never materialized.

The applause was warm, long and resounding when Clemens took the mound at the start of the game, but the applause were strangely louder and more reverent in the fourth.

It was their fond farewell to Clemens, who did not acknowledge the Yankee Stadium fans. He was surely too mad at himself for not holding up his end of the bargain, but that's as far as Clemens would go. He gave up a two-run homer to Trot Nixon in the second inning and a bases-empty shot to Kevin Millar in the fourth before Torre finally took the ball from him.

It was 4-0 and Pedro was focused, none of the funny stuff that had marred his work in that raucous Game 3 loss. He had gone nutty then, but last night he was terrific. However, he did not have enough left in the tank to finish. Not with a World Series on the line.

The Red Sox had even been given the gift of an insurance run, pushing their lead over the Yankees to 5-2 in the top of the eighth inning. That was courtesy of David Wells, that fan of Babe Ruth, who wore the Babe's cap in a game once.

Torre, whose every move will now be lauded as the work of a master, brought Wells in to relieve Jeff Nelson. Mike Mussina had relieved Clemens, and Felix Heredia had relieved Mussina. Wells certainly was the perfect pitcher at which to aim 85 years of frustration, so there was Red Sox slugger David Ortiz smacking a first-pitch, bases-empty shot over the wall in the top of the eighth.

Into the wind as the New York night edged toward witching hour, Wells screamed an expletive. He thought he had further blown the Yankees' chances. Now they were behind three runs. It looked grim for the Bombers. It was all going to start to unravel, the way everyone predicted the minute general manager Brian Cashman started shuffling in replacement players for the Yankees.

But the end of the Yankees' reign was not going to come at the hands of Martinez. It was not going to come when the Red Sox played their hand too long.

Don't blame Little, Martinez said after the Game 7 to remember.

Does that mean this was inevitable? This October, yes.

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