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DAN SHAUGHNESSY

Not buying this spin on rotation

ANAHEIM, Calif. -- Pedro Martinez was 9-3 with a 3.67 ERA at the All-Star break. He's a three-time Cy Young Award winner, he makes more money than any pitcher in the history of baseball ($17.5 million this year), and he arrived at the ballpark last night with seven full days of rest since his last start.

So why wasn't Pedro starting the first game after the All-Star break?

"We set it up a while ago," said Sox manager Terry Francona. "I'm more comfortable pitching him [tonight] in the second game. We've kind of set this up. I can't probably give you every reason, there's probably a load of them. I like the idea of Derek [Lowe] coming back from the get-go. We wanted Schill [Curt Schilling] to pitch fourth, that was kind of an important one. We're trying to keep Wake [Tim Wakefield] in between them. There's probably a lot of reasons."

But not starting Pedro last night takes him out of next weekend's Fenway series with the Yankees.

Francona pondered the statement as if it had been delivered in French, looked up, and said, "OK, so what's your point?"

The Yankees. That's the point.

"Every game to me means the same," said the manager. "If we lost to the people in front of the Yankees, the Yankee series doesn't mean a lot. We just have to play. And if we pitch Pedro the game before and we don't think we can beat the Yankees with whoever's pitching, then that's not right. I don't feel that way."

Fine. But Pedro not pitching the first game after the break, thereby missing the Yankees, is a curious decision that frustrates many Sox fans. Now it'll be Lowe (nine hits in another shoddy 4 2/3 innings last night) in the Yankee series instead of Martinez.

"That's OK," Francona said. "I'm the manager. I can't manage according to the fans. If I did everything the fans wanted me to, this place would blow up. I've read these letters, some of them, and if I did what they wanted? . . . it's not physically possible. Anatomy-wise, you can't do it. That lineup card only goes so far up my [expletive -- he did not say nostrils]."

Fresh from his annual midseason Dominican vacation (any chance the Sox held him back a day because they were worried he might not return on schedule?), Pedro walked into the clubhouse at 4:30 and greeted his teammates as if he'd been gone for months. The ace was in a good mood.

Any reason he wasn't pitching the first game after the break?

"I have done it before," he said. "But I wasn't chosen to pitch in the first game. Whoever is chosen to pitch in the first game is going to pitch. It's not up to me, it's up to the manager. If he chooses me to pitch the second game, I'm going to pitch the second game. If it was the first one, I'd pitch the first one. I'm only an employee here."

But this means you will miss the Yankees.

"It doesn't matter," he said. "Why do I have to pitch against the Yankees all the time? When was the last time I missed the Yankees in seven years? Have you done research about who has faced the Yankees the most?"

Informed that he's made 28 starts (including postseason) against the Yankees in his Sox tenure, Pedro smiled and said, "People got their money's worth."

Maybe, but Martinez has started the first game after the break only once in his seven seasons with the Red Sox.

Sox pitching coach Dave Wallace did his best to explain the post-break rotation strategy.

"So much is made of [the Yankees]," he said. "The first thing you have to do is just get everybody in their comfort level and worry about that later in the summer. We've got to win as many games as we can regardless of whether it's the Yankees or not. The logic is try to get guys on the most comfortable schedule to get them going for the second half. Lowe should pitch often because of his sinker. Pedro needs a blow this time of the year, but he's still coming back, second game in. Of course you look ahead and he misses the Yankees this time, but it's July. If it's September and you're two or three games from the division situation, sure you're going to juggle it. But our focus right now has to be putting the pitchers in the situation where we believe they can perform the best and wherever that falls, so be it."

Martinez was in a far better mood than star teammate Nomar Garciaparra. The subject of trade rumors, and enveloped in a loco logo dispute with Major League Baseball (Nomar doesn't want the MLB logo on his batting helmet), Garciaparra declined to comment on anything.

Pedro stuck up for his teammate.

"Nomar is a great person, a great teammate, and I don't have anything negative to say about Nomar," Martinez said. "I will support him in anything. He plays for my team every day . . . I don't believe talking or bringing in anybody else is going to make us better. We have to go out there and improve our game.

"I think this team has the tools. Give the team a little more time to play together. Nomar wasn't in. Trot [Nixon] wasn't in. The team wasn't adjusting quite well yet. Hopefully now that we're starting over and will play a little bit longer together, everything will click. But I believe in this team."

Great. Good to have you back, Pedro. But they should have made you pitch last night. And against the Yankees. It's what they're paying you to do. It's what an ace does.

Dan Shaughnessy is a Globe columnist. His e-mail address is dshaughnessy@globe.com.

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