Reliving a painful Red Sox moment

It's never too late to rehash the inning that led to the Red Sox losing to the Yankees in Game 7 of the ALCS.

Originally Published: October 29, 2003
By Rob Neyer | ESPN.com

The tears have dried up, the Back Bay riots quelled, the World Series decided. So with the Red Sox now looking for The Perfect Manager, let's spend a few minutes rehashing the improbable events of Oct. 16 ...

    Rob,

    I know you have probably heard it all and are tired of hearing it, but I just want to say "What the heck?"

    I was watching Game 7 of the ALCS when Pedro Martinez gave up the two-run double to tie it, and all I kept thinking is that I would have left him in the game, too.

    Pedro Martinez
    Martinez will have a challenge awaiting for him with New York fans.

    He didn't appear tired to me, the way most pitchers usually look tired. He looked fine. Baseball is a game of inches (as you are fond of saying), and I think things just broke the wrong way, which isn't really Grady Little's fault or Martinez's fault.

    I think it is completely unfair for people to go on and on about pulling Pedro because he just wasn't struggling. Hey, if Kevin Millar had just shoveled the ball in the seventh inning on a ball hit by Enrique Wilson, Pedro wouldn't have even been facing the same guys in the Yankees' order at that point. I just think it is really unfair the way people reacted to the decision, because I know there are a lot of people out there who would have done the same thing. How is it that the wunderkind GM didn't see it that way?

    Sincerely,
    Frustrated in Columbus

Were you watching the same thing I was, FiC? I was watching Game 7 of the ALCS when Pedro gave up the two-run double to tie it, and all I kept thinking was that Grady Little was not watching Game 7.

It happened in the eighth inning, but the seventh inning is instructive, I think.

Pedro Martinez breezed through the first six innings. While allowing three hits and one run, he threw only 79 pitches and never more than 19 in a single inning. The Red Sox had a three-run lead (4-1) and the American League's best pitcher was on the mound, strong and effective.

Then, the seventh.

Hideki Matsui led off and did Martinez a favor by swinging at the first pitch and grounding out. But Jorge Posada lined out to center on the sixth pitch he saw, Giambi homered on the fifth pitch he saw, Wilson and Karim Garcia singled (early in their at-bats), and Alfonso Soriano struck out (naturally) on the sixth pitch he saw.

It all seems a bit sterile, described that way. However, if you saw the game, it was anything but. That strikeout of Soriano, with two runners on base, seemed like the biggest moment of the game.

That last pitch to Soriano was Martinez's 21st of the inning and 100th of the evening.

One might reasonably have argued that 100 pitches was quite enough. As a number of readers have pointed out, Martinez got hammered this season from pitches 106 through 135: .364 batting average.

But that's only 33 at-bats. Looking at that same split for 2000 through 2002, we see 86 at-bats and a .291 batting average, which isn't quite as scary. And if we look at all four seasons, 2000 through 2003, we see Martinez giving up a .311 batting average beginning with his 106th pitch.

That's not a bad baseline, but it's certainly simplistic in a number of ways, not least of which is that this "analysis" considers Pitch No. 106 the same as Pitch No. 125.

But remember, Martinez had thrown 100 pitches through seven innings, which meant that if he were allowed to take the mound for the eighth, he would almost certainly go well over 106 pitches (in the first seven innings, he'd averaged 14 pitches per inning). Granted, the pitch with which Martinez struck out Soriano registered 94 mph on the radar gun, and some might take that as evidence that he still had plenty in the tank. But a skeptic might suggest that he'd exhausted himself, reaching down deep for such a pitch.

Still, it seemed reasonable, letting Martinez start the eighth. The Red Sox had scored a run in the top of the eighth. Three-run lead, ace on the mound, 100 pitches, questionable bullpen (at least before October).

So you send him out there. Fine. But you have to be both ready and quick to pull him, if he looks shaky.

And Pedro Martinez did look shaky. It took him seven pitches to dispatch Nick Johnson.

107

On an 0-2 pitch, Derek Jeter doubled to deep right field.

110

Bernie Williams knocked in Jeter with an RBI single. Line drive.

115

This was the spot. This was where Grady Little made the biggest mistake of his career.

Remember, Martinez had thrown 21 pitches in the seventh and barely escaped serious damage. Many analysts believe that a stressful inning like the seventh takes more out of a pitcher than just looking at the number of pitches might suggest. He'd escaped a bad jam in the seventh and now thrown 15 pitches in the eighth. Runner on base, left-handed-hitting Matsui coming up.

You simply have to bring in a new pitcher. You can call it second-guessing if you like, but both Tim McCarver on my TV and Rob Neyer on my chair were first-guessing. Vehemently.

Anyway, you know the rest. Martinez gave up a double to Matsui (118), and still Little didn't do anything. Posada followed with a bloop double that tied the game, and finally Little did something.

Little's defenders will say, "Yeah, but Posada didn't hit the ball hard!"

True, but that's not really the point, is it? Jeter hit the ball hard, Williams hit the ball hard, Matsui hit the ball hard. Pedro had just worked a high-stress inning, and now he was in the middle of another.

Grady Little didn't have the smarts or the guts (I don't know which) to remove his pitcher, and as a result the Red Sox lost ... what? Their biggest game in 17 years?

But does Little deserve to get fired because of it? I don't think so.

If you believe the stories coming out of Boston, though, it's not why he got fired. Sure, if the Red Sox had beaten the Yankees, it would have been difficult for management to send Little packing. But they simply didn't consider Little the right man for the job. Management wants a manager who's at least willing, if not eager, to incorporate objective analysis into his decision-making process and his team's game preparation. Little apparently has resisted such things to the point of insubordination, so it was just a matter of time until he had to be let go.

And please, let's shed no tears for Grady Little. He made one of the biggest managerial mistakes in postseason history, and in return he's received $300,000 in severance pay from Red Sox owner John Henry. Few goats have fared better.

Senior writer Rob Neyer writes four columns per week during the baseball season. His new book, "Rob Neyer's Big Book of Baseball Lineups," has just been published by Fireside. For more information about the book, visit Rob's Web site.

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