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BOB RYAN

End result? Manager all but finished

It's the Day After the Day After, and it still hurts, and it hurts in a way no other game can make you hurt because baseball is the Great Temptress of sport.

What happened to the Red Sox, and, by extension, their fans, in Yankee Stadium Thursday night has no parallel in football, basketball, or hockey, none of which approaches baseball in complexity, and none of which asks for the sustained emotional commitment from its fans. And to think, this wasn't even the most disastrous occurrence in the team's history. This time, they were five outs away from the goal. In 1986, as you recall, it was one strike.

Jorge Posada's game-tying double (actually, a single, plus an unattended second base) was a blooper, you know. It was Joe Morgan's ninth-inning, game-winning hit off Jim Burton. Only in baseball is doing not very well so amply rewarded, while doing something very well so often gets punished. Had Posada actually hit the ball a little bit farther, it would have been caught by Johnny Damon, and caught sufficiently close enough that even the notoriously rag-armed center fielder could have thrown out Bernie Williams had he attempted to tag up.

I point this out not to weep and wail, but to illustrate the fascinating vagaries of the game. Never forget that someone could pitch a perfect game with 27 line-drive outs.

None of this is any consolation for the baseball-loving people of New England, who have to stomach a World Series that pits the Evil Empire against the Clueless Sun Worshipers. Of course, I am not talking about the teams themselves. I am talking about the fans.

People care here in a way that the people of South Florida could never possibly comprehend. They care here to a degree that it is actually injurious to their mental health. But how can you tell someone not to care? As Woody Allen once said on another matter, "The heart wants what the heart wants."

Grady Little's own heart overruled his head, and as a result, he has certainly managed his last game for the Red Sox. As bad as his decision was to leave Pedro in long enough to have the game tied, his explanation made things even worse.

"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 out of the bullpen," Grady declared.

The only problem with that statement is that it's not true.

Pedro has been given the Ming vase treatment, not only this year, but for the past three. He's a seven-inning pitcher who had thrown 100 pitches, the usual target number. In the big moment, Grady deviated from his normal procedure. And as for asking Pedro whether he wished to continue, who was Grady kidding. Every great pitcher, from Hoss Radbourn to Cy Young to Grover Cleveland Alexander to Bob Feller to Bob Gibson to Roger Clemens to, yes, Pedro Martinez, wants to stay in. The manager's job in this matter is to be the Bad Cop.

Washington Post columnist Thomas Boswell is a baseball maven and, I am proud to say, a friend of mine. Here is his take on the Grady/Pedro matter: "Earl Weaver told me a long time ago that leaving a guy in like that was `sentimental managing,' and you cannot do it in the postseason."

Exacerbating the situation is the fact that there was no one to talk sense into Grady. If Joe Torre were even considering such a thing, you can be assured that pitching coach Mel Stottlemyre, a trusted associate of long standing, would have been very happy to give Joe a metaphorical slap in the face and say, "Joe, no! Get him out!" And if Mel didn't say it, Don Zimmer would have.

But Grady's pitching coach, Dave Wallace, is an interim replacement for the ailing Tony Cloninger. He has no real relationship with Grady, and would never presume to offer him that kind of needed advice. Jerry Narron wasn't going to interfere, either.

Grady Little is being eviscerated by the national press in an unprecedented manner. In the press box and in the press work room, there was no other topic of conversation. Mariano Who? Aaron did what? Nobody cared. The only issue was Grady Little.

The press conference following the game was surreal. Grady was asked two questions, the first being, why did you leave Pedro in, and the second being, what was said on the mound? Then there was silence. League PR representative Phyllis Merhige said, "Any more questions for Grady?"

Now, remember, this was a seventh game of an American League Championship Series decided by a walkoff homer, and, not only that, but the seventh game of a Yankee-Red Sox series to conclude a spectacular 26-game confrontation, and not one person wanted his thoughts on any of that. All anyone wanted to do was hear him explain why he left Pedro in the game.

"Doesn't anyone have any more questions?" Merhige pleaded. "Grady was nice enough to walk all the way down here."

Total deafening silence.

Grady rose from his chair and left the room. In 35 years of professional sportswriting, I have never seen anything like it.

He is finished. John W. Henry and Larry Lucchino are very PR- and image-conscious. Do you think they wish to be known as the complete fools who didn't know enough to get rid of the man perceived by an entire sports-loving nation to be the Village Idiot? Do you think Grady Little can show his face in this town again, under any circumstances? Do you think they can afford to have this maligned and reviled figure as the public face of Red Sox baseball?

Grady Little has become the managerial Buckner.

Grady Little is a good man. His players respect him and will go to the mattresses for him. Under other leadership, the team may never have gotten this far. But he is the manager of the Boston Red Sox, and he serves an enormous clientele known as Red Sox Nation. In their eyes, he is now beyond redemption.

Around here, there is no such thing as the idea that "It's Only A Game." Around here, people care. The temptress as baseball keeps taunting them, and they are helpless to resist.

Bob Ryan is a Globe columnist. His e-mail address is ryan@globe.com.

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