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When it counted, they're counted out

This could have been the turn game of summer, an afternoon that would have given teeth to Red Sox claims that this time, their pursuit of the Yankees was not necessarily destined to fall short.

The Sox already had shown Friday night they could handle the Yankees, at least on the short term, without Manny Ramirez. And when they spotted Pedro Martinez a 3-0 lead after one inning yesterday -- which is as close as a Sox team can come to guaranteeing victory -- there was an inclination to drift ahead a day, and contemplate the Yankees in full retreat. Can you imagine the level of bloodlust today if all that stood between the Sox and a sweep of the Bombers was Roger Clemens, in his Fenway finale?

But that will not happen, not after the Yankees' 10-7 win yesterday. Even if the Rocket goes out on his shield this afternoon, the Yankees assured themselves of leaving here with no worse than a 3 1/2 game margin over the Sox after Martinez, for only the second time in 165 career starts for Boston, gave back a three-run advantage.

When it counted most, Martinez could give the Sox just four innings yesterday, the earliest he has been pulled involuntarily from a game this season.

When it counted most, on a day that Yankee lefthander Andy Pettitte invited his own demise with a first-inning throwing error, Martinez was less hunter than hunted. It was Pedro who facilitated a Yankee comeback by giving up three straight hits and a run in the third inning, then five hits and three more runs in the fourth. It was Pedro who was gone by the start of the fifth, the burden of responsibility shifting to a kid who arrived only last week, Bronson Arroyo.

When it counted most, the Sox bullpen could not spare Martinez the bitter taste of his own failure, Alan Embree and Byung Hyun Kim unable to hold service even as the Sox had the Yankees and closer Mariano Rivera on the ropes one more time in the eighth.

When it counted most, Grady Little's claims that Martinez was still suffering the lingering effects of the illness that caused him to miss what was supposed to have been a watershed start against the A's and had him still weak when he took the ball for six innings against the Mariners last Monday night sounded just a little hollow.

"He wasn't 100 percent out there today," Little said. "He's still a little bit affected by the sickness he had and it caught up with him pretty good there about the fourth inning."

But Martinez was already getting whacked around in the third inning, when the Yankees scored twice on Nick Johnson's RBI double and Bernie Williams's RBI sacrifice liner to left. And the fourth, which began with Jorge Posada's tying home run deep into the right-field grandstand, felt like it would never end, Martinez laboring through 33 pitches.

Martinez does not answer for himself these days, so we won't know whether he would have pointed to his fragile physical state as the cause of his ineffectiveness yesterday.

"He had a tough time getting his breath," interim pitching coach Dave Wallace said.

But his outing did little to dissuade the Yankees of the notion that when faced with pinstripes, he has a better chance of losing than winning -- his record is now 8-8 against the Bombers.

"It may have been just one of those days," Wallace said, protesting that even a pitcher who last gave back a three-run lead June 25, 2000, against the Blue Jays can fall short of his own impossibly high expectations. "They can happen to everybody."

Who could have imagined that Arroyo -- one hit in 3 1/3 innings -- would be more effective against the Yankees than any other pitcher Little ran out against the Bombers? Embree, who had been unhittable all month, relieved Arroyo and eventually gave up an RBI single to Enrique Wilson, a ground-rule double to Derek Jeter, and a two-run single to Nick Johnson as the Yankees opened an 8-4 advantage. Kim, after Little confounded observers with a David McCarty-Mariano Rivera matchup that worked out splendidly when McCarty launched a two-run double off the Monster, gave up a crushing home run to Posada in the ninth, and whatever hope still lurked in the Fens leaked out as swiftly as the fans who fled for the exits.

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