boston.com Sports Sportsin partnership with NESN your connection to The Boston Globe
ON BASEBALL

Haunting memories have managed to reappear

"I'll be another ghost, fully capable of haunting." -- Grady Little, shortly before he was let go as manager of the Red Sox

We never imagined how true those words would be.

Terry Francona did not lose his team last night, but he may well have lost this town, for the very reason Grady Little lost his job: He believed in Pedro Martinez with a lead against the Yankees in the eighth inning, with the leaves already turning.

And just like Little, after a 6-4 Sox defeat that bore eerie similarities to the Game 7 American League Championship Series loss that defined his predecessor's legacy in Boston, Francona found himself defending what many in Fenway Park last night considered the indefensible, judging by the boos that rained down as he made his way back and forth from the mound last night.

"There's no reason to be upset at Tito," Martinez insisted, even as he admitted with shocking and devastating bluntness that he feels incapable of beating the Yankees. ("What can I say? I just tip my hat and call the Yankees my daddy.")

Martinez had turned his back on his manager when Francona finally came to retrieve him last night, the Yankees having tied the score on Hideki Matsui's home run on Martinez's second pitch of the eighth, then taking the lead on Bernie Williams's ground-rule double and Ruben Sierra's single on an 0-and-2 pitch, a blow as piercing to Martinez's soul as Jorge Posada's broken-bat blooper that KO'd Martinez last October.

Martinez did not look at Francona even as he handed him the ball, his back still turned, his eyes gazing aimlessly toward center field. Martinez insisted later he bore no rancor at Francona as he belatedly summoned Alan Embree to the mound.

"It was just frustrating for me not to do my job," he said. "How many times had my team given me the lead? I wanted to bury myself on that mound."

But with the kind of certainty the Nation showed when it stripped Little of his citizenship last October, the crowd of 35,022 aimed its wrath at Francona, who in many eyes showed an astonishing lack of understanding of what had befallen this team last season.

Surely, the one abiding lesson seared on the brainpans of Sox fans everywhere was that once Martinez was north of 100 pitches and the game was in the eighth, especially against the Yankees, it was time to turn over the job to someone else.

The Yankee starter, Mike Mussina, had departed after six innings, after a yield of three runs on five hits and three walks, having thrown 103 pitches.

When Martinez began the eighth, he had thrown 101 pitches, and had been given a lead by Johnny Damon's home run in the seventh off Yankees reliever Tom Gordon. As the teams swapped sides at the start of the eighth, Sox coach Euclides Rojas answered the phone in the bullpen. Moments later, Mike Timlin was taking his jacket off to begin his warmups.

Why start the eighth with Martinez? "In my opinion, he still had good stuff," the manager said.

Matsui's home run, on a fastball Martinez left over the middle of the plate, was a compelling reason for Francona to reconsider that decision. That's not how he saw it.

"If I run out there after two pitches, you understand what I'm saying, it would make it look like I wasn't making a very good decision before the inning," Francona said.

Sox catcher Jason Varitek went out to speak with Martinez after the home run. Timlin had already been joined by Embree, both veteran relievers having been skipped over the night before, when Francona had gone with lefty specialist Mike Myers longer than normal and called upon Byung Hyun Kim, just so he'd have his most reliable relievers ready for just such a situation.

But he left them in the pen, just as Little, who had visited Martinez just before Matsui doubled in the eighth last October, had kept Timlin and Embree on hold last year.

So, Francona was asked by Tom Verducci of Sports Illustrated, were we to believe it was Pedro's game either way?

"I can't tell you that," Francona said. "If he goes out, and things, in my opinion, are falling apart, that's different. I'm just saying that I thought he was in command of what he was doing. I thought he deserved to stay out there, and actually the reason he stayed out there is because I thought he was going to get them out . . . two pitches into the inning, he's still, in my opinion, he's OK."

But after Williams sliced a ground-rule double to right, and Sierra, another switch hitter much more dangerous from the left side, lined an 0-and-2 single to right to break the tie, the bullpen was left to pick up the pieces.

To the very end, and to this day, Little has said if he had to do it over again, he would do it the same way.

Francona had that chance, and may live to regret it. Meet the new boss, same as the old boss. And we were fooled again.

SEARCH THE ARCHIVES
 
Today (free)
Yesterday (free)
Past 30 days
Last 12 months
 Advanced search / Historic Archives