10/17/2003 2:09 AM ET
Sox stick with Pedro in key eighth
Players defend Little for leaving ace in the game
NEW YORK -- After watching his relievers pitch brilliantly during the playoffs, manager Grady Little had every reason to use them Thursday night when the Red Sox were five outs from their first American League championship in 17 years.
By Jim Street / MLB.com
Little walked to the mound in the eighth inning for what many expected to be his first pitching change of the game. A gallant Pedro Martinez, who started the inning with a three-run lead, showed signs of running out of gas.
Little faced a big decision.
Should he stay with his ace right-hander, who had just surrendered a one-out double to Derek Jeter and run-scoring single to Bernie Williams? Or should he summon left-hander Alan Embree from the bullpen to face left-handed hitting Hideki Matsui?
The conversation was brief.
"He asked me if I had any bullets left in my tank and I told him I did," Martinez said.
Two hits later the game was tied. Three innings after that, the game and the Red Sox's remarkable postseason resiliency ended as Aaron Boone hit a first-pitch home run off Tim Wakefield, giving the Yankees a 6-5 win in an absolutely classic baseball game.
"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 in out of that bullpen," Little said.
In a visiting clubhouse full of down cowboys, the Red Sox sat slumped in their chairs. Martinez still was dressed in his uniform for almost 45 minutes after Boone's blast into the left-field seats sent one city into ecstasy and another into agony.
In Red Sox Nation, many believe Game 7 actually was lost in the eighth inning when Little didn't change pitchers. But no one inside the clubhouse wearing red blamed the manager, especially Martinez.
"I wouldn't put Grady on the spot whatsoever," Pedro said. "I am the ace of the team and you have to trust me. I wasn't thinking about pitch count. This is no time to be thinking about pitch counts. I tried hard and did whatever possible to win the ballgame."
As it turned out, he could have used some help.
Embree was ready, but he wasn't surprised that Little stuck with Martinez.
"We had the right guy on the mound in Petey," Embree said. "He is the one who got us here and he has pitched himself out of a lot of jams this season. I wasn't surprised at all."
Matsui lined a ground-rule double into right field, putting runners on second and third, and Jorge Posada dropped a broken-bat double into center field to tie the game at 5-5. That prompted Little to make another trip to the mound and this time he had no choice -- he removed his star pitcher from a game for the last time this season
"Pedro wanted to stay in there," Little said. "He wanted to get the job done just as he many times for us all season long."
Martinez shielded Little from criticism.
"If anyone wants to point a finger, they can point it at me," Martinez said. "I was the one pitching. I was the one who gave up the lead. If you want to curse me for that, go ahead. I am responsible for the pitches and decisions I make. Grady did a great job all season and it's not fair to blame Grady for whatever decision was made out there."
Veteran reliever Mike Timlin pitched 1 1/3 scoreless innings of relief to maintain his perfect postseason record and didn't buy the theory that the game and season basically ended with the eighth inning non-move.
"I haven't questioned Grady's judgment all year long and I'm probably not going to start now," he said. "That game and this series was tremendous by two worthy opponents. Those were two teams that didn't want to give up or give in, two teams that left everything on the field."
Timlin has two World Series rings from his days with the Blue Jays (1992-93) and said this Red Sox team ranks as one of the best he has played for, "Personality-wise, unity-wise, friendship-wise. We never gave up, never gave in.
"We just came up one run short. We took it to a Game 7 and when you lose like that, it hurts. But someone has to win and someone has to lose."
But it was a heck of a ride.
Jim Street is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to approval by Major League baseball or its clubs.