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Signs are clear: Torre is backing Little

MIAMI -- This is the World Series, of course, but guess what name came up yesterday in Yankees manager Joe Torre's press conference. That's right, Grady Little.

The future of the Red Sox manager still is a lively topic, five days after Little chose to stay with Pedro Martinez in the eighth inning of Game 7 of the American League Championship Series. Little's fate has been the top subject among New England sports fans.

"To have a manager be questioned about leaving the best pitcher in baseball in a ballgame when he's thrown 115, 120 pitches -- it's tough," Torre said. "But, again, that is what our game is all about. Our game is about winning. A lot of people don't necessarily care what the reasons are; it's just the bottom line that makes things happen like that."

Torre managed against Little for 26 games in 2003 and came away with a 14-12 advantage. Several people in the Yankee clubhouse -- Torre, general manager Brian Cashman, and Hall of Famer Reggie Jackson among them -- still believe that Boston is a championship-caliber team.

"They are a well-built team," said Cashman. "The guys on the team obviously care about each other and are willing to fight for one another. That's how it appears from afar."

Torre agreed.

"It's unfortunate," he said of the anti-Little lobby. "Grady did a great job with that ball club. You talk to every player and they'll tell you. He dealt with some discipline problems during the season and handled them, I thought, very well.

"Of course, not being on the inside, just from the outside, he kept a steady boat over there as far as I was concerned. But it's a shame. Leaving Pedro Martinez in the game -- if that's the wrong decision, then that's a tough way to go."

The New York manager prefaced all his remarks by saying that he talked with the great Bob Gibson a few days ago, and Gibson told him there is no way he would let a manager take the ball from him in that situation. But then again, Gibson won three Series games in 1967 and had an unfathomable 1.12 earned-run average in '68. Martinez is good, but he's never done anything like that.

The single guys

One of the more amazing statistics of the Series is the amount of extra-base hits by the Marlins: Zero. The Marlins have 13 singles in two games, the first time in 17 years that a team has had no extra-base hits in consecutive Series games. There is no need to tell you about the participants in the 1986 Series, and no reason to harp on Game 6. But an interesting fact is that the team from New York in that series had no extra-base hits in Game 6 . . . New York's Mike Mussina will oppose Florida's Josh Beckett in Game 3 tonight at Pro Player Stadium . . . There were a few sarcastic remarks directed at the Sox in the Yankee clubhouse regarding the decision to paint the Series logo on the Fenway lawn before Game 7 . . . Florida manager Jack McKeon was talking about his team's reliance on bunting when he dropped this compliment: "Two of the best bunters I ever saw were Rod Carew and Brett Butler. This guy [Juan Pierre] is pretty close to that class." . . . McKeon knows tonight's crowd won't be completely clad in teal. There are lots of New York fans in Florida. "I think you'll see more Cub fans than you will Yankee fans down here," he said. "The Cub fans were out in force down here [during the National League Championship Series]. It was pretty interesting to see half the stands full of Cubs fans, rooting for the Cubs, and half for the Marlins." . . . George Steinbrenner, this comment is just for you. Mussina, talking about how grateful he is for team accomplishments: "I think being in my third year [with the Yankees] and at my age, I do appreciate the fact that even though I play for the Yankees, we're not going to be in the World Series every year. It takes a lot more than having certain personnel to put yourself in the World Series."

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