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BOB RYAN

Misery has more company

NEW YORK -- The reward for all that fidelity will surely come in another life. There is no indication it will ever materialize in this one.

With five outs to go, it was there. It was tangible. The Red Sox were going to beat the Yankees. They were going to the World Series, and, of course, they were going to win it. The "Cowboy Up" bunch was the team of every Red Sox fan's dreams, a group capable of ignoring the history and playing the game right at the same time.

But the story never, ever changes. Whatever the formula is, the Red Sox still do not have it. Pedro Martinez couldn't hold leads of 4-0 and 5-2, and the Red Sox couldn't score against Mariano Rivera. And in the cruelest twist of fate this series could possibly have provided, Tim Wakefield, unquestionably the team's MVP in this series, threw one pitch in the bottom of the 11th and Aaron Boone hit it in the left-field seats.

Yanks 6, Sox 5, and let the crying begin.

Thus we have another gigantic log to toss on that Eternal Flame of Red Sox Misery. This lovable, gritty team seemed to have the Right Stuff, with a season-long run of comeback wins. They came to New York needing to win two, and they came within five precious outs of doing so. The problem is the Pedro Martinez of 2003 is not the Pedro Martinez of 1999. Check that: The problem was Grady Little thought the Pedro Martinez of 2003 is the Pedro Martinez of 1999.

He is not.

Pedro's heart is willing, but the flesh isn't what it was at his peak. His mortality was apparent as early as the seventh inning, when Jorge Posada hit one hard to center, Jason Giambi hit the second of his two home runs over the center-field fence, and Karim Garcia lined a hard single to right. He got out of the inning and had thrown 100 pitches.

Grady had a choice, and his decision was to stay with Pedro. It was a bad one. Before he could get Pedro out of the game in the eighth inning, three runs were in and the score was tied.

"Pedro Martinez has been our man all year long in situations just like this," said Little. "He's the man we want on the mound, more than anyone in our bullpen."

Everybody's going to blame Little for everything, I'm sure, but this is never an easy decision, and there was a lot more to this game than pulling Pedro or not pulling Pedro. Baseball is a lot more complex than that.

Take, for example, the failure to capitalize on a juicy situation in the fourth. Kevin Millar led off the inning with a home run to make it 4-0. Then, with men on first and third -- on a perfectly executed hit-and-run, if you can believe that -- the Red Sox were in a position to blow the game open when Joe Torre summoned Mike Mussina from the pen for his first relief appearance of a career that has had exactly 400 starts. The Moose, who has been slammed by the New York press for coming up small in the postseason while wearing a Yankee uniform, fanned Jason Varitek and induced Johnny Damon to hit into an inning-ending 6-3 double play.

"That was the turning point for me," Torre said. "It kept us there. You feel like you're getting your brains beat out, but you look at the scoreboard and you're still at arm's length."

Mussina worked three scoreless innings. The relay team just kept coming and coming. Felix Heredia, Jeff Nelson, even David Wells. Wells was brought in to face David Ortiz and saw his first pitch, a changeup that dipped down and in, blasted over the right-field fence to make it 5-2.

The Red Sox' nightly strategy against the Yankees is always the same: Get a lead and keep Mariano Rivera out of the game. They were on their way to doing just that when Pedro imploded in the eighth, giving up a double to Derek Jeter, a single to Bernie Williams, a ground-rule double to Hideki Matsui, and, finally, a bloop double to center by Posada.

Enter Rivera, and while he wasn't untouchable, he was good enough. Before the game, Torre had been asked if he would even consider using Rivera for more than two innings and he said he doubted it very much, that he would do nothing to risk Rivera's health. So what happened? Rivera pitched a scoreless ninth, a scoreless 10th, and a scoreless 11th. File that under the heading of a manager and a closer doing what they had to do.

It was a truly great game and a truly great series, but no one in Boston wants to hear that. They would gladly have taken four dull victories, but dull was never going to be the phrase associated with any game these teams were going to play. In the 100-year history of Boston-New York American League competition, this was undoubtedly the greatest collection of ballgames. They wound up playing a major league-record 26 times, with New York winning 14, Boston winning 12, and the deciding game, for the American League pennant, lasting into the 11th inning.

"I think the Boston fans should be proud of their ball club," Torre said. "They were the toughest team we've faced in my eight years here."

The Red Sox always lose in great games. The 1975 World Series was an epic. The Bucky Dent Game was an epic. The 1986 World Series was a keeper. That's the point. The Red Sox always play in these things, but they never wind up pouring the champagne.

Seriously. Would it spoil some vast eternal plan if the Red Sox could win one?

Bob Ryan is a Globe columnist. His e-mail address is ryan@globe.com.

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