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ON BASEBALL

Everything is wild with these aces

It's Martinez vs. Clemens in a dream matchup

NEW YORK -- Even before they took the field for a Game 6 that will demand a special place in the memory vault of all who treasure the Red Sox, Lou Merloni said they were already talking about what would come next. Game 7, Red Sox vs. Yankees. Pedro Martinez vs. Roger Clemens. Yankee Stadium. The hopes of a Nation against the arrogance of an empire.

History blushes at the possibilities.

"Obviously we had to win Game 6 first," Merloni said after mission was accomplished with a stirring 9-6 comeback win over the Bombers last night. "But we were saying before the game, `This is what the whole world wants to see happen. The baseball gods, everybody. And you don't mess with the baseball gods."

Want to buy a ticket for this one? Where do you set the price for this winner-take-all game that has no precedent to compare with this matchup of pitchers who have won nine Cy Young Awards between them (Clemens 6, Martinez 3) and share Boston as a touchstone for much of their greatness?

Clemens, 41, has won 310 games, 192 as a member of the Red Sox, tying him with Cy Young for first on the Sox all-time win list. His two World Series rings have come with the Yankees.

Martinez, who turns 32 Oct. 25, has the highest winning percentage (.716, 166-66) in big league history. He has never pitched in a World Series.

"You can start wherever you want," said Sox pitcher Derek Lowe. "I'm sure there will be a lot of cellphones ringing in here tonight. I guarantee you there will be a lot of people who want to see this game. It's the only game in town. Boston-New York, everything on the line.

"I can't put a price on it. I'm just happy I'll be on the bench."

And then there is this: For all the abuse Clemens has taken in Boston after leaving in 1996 in what was perceived as a money grab, there was still an undercurrent of appreciation that burst through the surface this summer, and his successful quest to become a 300-game winner. The standing ovation Clemens received as he left the mound for what was believed to be his last Fenway Park appearance in August was spontaneous, heartfelt, and moving.

There will be no such demonstration for Martinez tonight in the Bronx. He is a marked man after the Game 3 melees in Boston that ensued after he hit Karim Garcia in the back shoulder with a pitch, and reached their horrifying nadir when Martinez shoved 72-year-old Yankee coach Don Zimmer to the ground after an enraged Zimmer charged him, hands upraised.

Martinez was fined $50,000 by Major League Baseball for his actions, but that wasn't enough to silence his critics. The mayor of New York, Michael Bloomberg, referred to Martinez as a "perpetrator" and said if that had happened within his city's limits, Martinez would have been arrested. The front page of the New York Post showed Martinez dropping Zimmer under the headline, "Fenway Punk." Two former Yankee greats, Goose Gossage and Graig Nettles, ripped Martinez to a New Jersey columnist.

"I can't believe no one in the bullpen went after Martinez," Gossage told Bob Klapisch of the Bergen Record. "If it was me, I would've gone right for him. We would've finished it right there. That skinny little [expletive]. There's no question he threw right at Garcia's head. That's totally gutless. It's too bad he doesn't have to hit, because I guarantee you he wouldn't be throwing at hitters like that."

When Martinez stepped off the bus that carried the Sox to the Stadium yesterday afternoon, the spectators lined up behind a police barricade assailed him with invectives, several shouting, "I'll kill you."

"You saw the ovation Manny got tonight," Lowe said, a facetious reference to the booing Ramirez -- another Game 3 villain -- received here. "That's probably small compared to what Pedro is going to get. Obviously he's going to hear some choice words. You just hope things aren't going to be thrown.

"But he knows what's going to happen. Even if nothing had happened in Game 3, he knows they'll be all over him. He understands it. He looks forward to it. He'll be extremely focused. He loves the challenge. If you look at his career, any time there's been a big game, a game on national TV, everyone is watching, he relishes the opportunity."

"And he doesn't let people down."

Clemens was not available to the media last night. Martinez, who has been maintaining radio silence for much of the season, spoke briefly to the throng gathered around his locker last night.

Asked what he expected the atmosphere would be like tonight, he said: "I don't know. I've got to see what it's like."

This was the matchup his teammates wanted, he was told.

"That's because they didn't want to go home after Game 6," he said with a smile. "It's as simple as that."

No it isn't. It's so much more.

"Zimmer is not going to hit tomorrow," Yankees manager Joe Torre said in his postgame press conference, cracking up the room.

"You've got two great pitchers. Roger, I'm sure he's up for the task and I'm sure Pedro is, too."

Pedro vs. the Rocket, Game 7, Sox vs. Yankees.

"It's going to be unbelievable," Sox reliever Alan Embree said. "You now have your dream matchup.

"Several kids have lived this dream 100 times. Some of them are Pedro. Some are Roger.

"And that's what you have [tonight]."

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