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JACKIE MACMULLAN

Father knows best? You bet your life

NEW YORK -- I grew up with a father who was born at St. Ann's Hospital in Manhattan, and raised in Queens Village. I endured a steady diet of baseball news from the New York Post, and listened respectfully while the virtues of Gehrig, DiMaggio, Mays, and Mantle were recited to me.

But still I was a Red Sox fan. Massachusetts was my home, and each spring, I would dutifully shake hands with my father, sealing our bet: $1 to whomever's favorite baseball team went the furthest.

For as long as I can remember, when the bases were finally pulled up, and the bats put away, I grudgingly pulled the plug from the bottom of my piggy bank, and shelled out four quarters.

Last night, in the bottom of the eighth in Game 7 of the American League Championship Series, I called up Fred MacMullan in Sarasota, Fla., and warned him I'd soon be shouting out the words I had been waiting so long to say:

Hey, Dad. You owe me a buck.

What was I thinking? Haven't I learned anything by now? Blame this crushing, 6-5, Red Sox loss on me. I believed this team was different. I believed they were a team of destiny, immune from curses, a group of gutty, gritty, giddy cowboys who would make me and the rest of Red Sox Nation forget all the heartache of the past century.

I believed they were going to the World Series.

They won't be now. Aaron Boone, the baby-faced third baseman who didn't even start last night's game because he had looked so completely lost at the plate, stepped up in the 11th inning and took Tim Wakefield deep to left field. Wakefield, whose valiant performances in this series would have earned him an MVP trophy had this particular ballgame gone the other way, immediately dropped his head. He knew. He didn't even have to look.

The Yankees had won. Again.

I should have known, too. It's never over until the last pitch is thrown. I was there, after all, in 1986, sent to the bowels of Shea Stadium to record the raucous celebration of Boston's first World Series victory since 1918. The Red Sox were one strike away from accomplishing that, and I smiled politely as Red Sox personnel wheeled in bottles of champagne, and tenderly laid a World Champion Red Sox T-shirt on the back of every chair in that clubhouse. Bob Costas was there, and some others, I'm sure, and we all sat and waited.

You know the rest. The Mets won the game. The Mets won the Series. The heartbreak continued.

This year's Red Sox team refused to be responsible for past failures. They were a loose, fun-loving bunch, who pounded out hits, and picked each other up. They were smiling, all of them, in the bottom of the eighth, when I called Florida, to transfer the family bragging rights.

At the time, David Ortiz had just crushed a David Wells curveball into the right-field seats, and the Red Sox were rolling, 5-2. Even when Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter doubled with one out in the bottom of that inning, even when center fielder Bernie Williams knocked Jeter in with a single, why worry? Manager Grady Little was headed to the mound, ostensibly to tell Pedro Martinez he had pitched a gutty game, and it was time for the resurgent bullpen to close the deal.

But Little came and went, and Pedro was still holding the ball, with lefthander Alan Embree all warmed up in the bullpen, with no place to go.

Martinez wanted to finish the job -- or at least the inning -- himself. One Hideki Matsui double and one Jorge Posada broken-bat bloop, two-RBI hit later, he was holding the ball and the bag, obliterating any hopes he had of becoming the hero of this series. He also may have sealed the fate of his manager, by convincing him he could still pitch.

As my father astutely pointed out after Posada's hit tied it 5-5, and that old Yankee edge had returned to his voice, "They might fire Grady Little right after this game is over."

It almost made me check the dugout to start the ninth to make sure he was still in there.

"Pedro is our man," said Little after the game, when asked why he stuck with Martinez. "He's been in situations like that all year long. He had enough in left in his tank to get Posada."

The questions kept coming at the Boston manager, long after this game was over. He answered it as many ways as he could, before he finally said, "There's nothing we can do about it now."

He's got that right. While the Yankees are swimming in champagne, Red Sox fans will be drowning in their tears. The Evil Empire will escape the wrath of their uncompromising owner, George Steinbrenner, while your team will endure another winter of hand-wringing and second-guessing.

Me? I'm sending my dad a check in the mail. I'm too old for piggy banks, too fed up to count out the quarters. If he wants the money that badly, let him go to the bank to get it.

Jackie MacMullan is a Globe columnist. Her e-mail address is macmullan@globe.com.

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