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Game 7 overshadows job he did all season



Special to ESPN.com

Oct. 19

It does no good to try to rationalize that it took what many believe is the greatest game ever played at Yankee Stadium to end Boston's season, and that Jason Giambi said "it feels as if we've played the Red Sox in 26 11-inning elimination games." Or that the team fought off four elimination games before finally losing to the Yankees, which was only the third time (1949, 1978 the others) that they had been eliminated by their fiercest rival in an elimination game.

There were no villains in 1978, just Buckybleeping Dent, and while Bill Buckner was cast in goat's horns, anyone who watched the game or read the Warren Commission Report knows that he did not act alone.

But Grady Little is perceived to have acted alone, and while fans can look at the half-dozen balls Manny Ramirez didn't run out in the postseason or the struggles of Nomar Garciaparra (and several others), Little has been convicted of stripping the team New Englanders learned to love of its heroics. Understand, those of you where the Red Sox are not a life-and-death matter, this goes beyond vilification. This is pure, unadulterated hatred for a wonderfully decent man who was a large part in the centrifugal force that held together a team that had a few dysfunctional parts, not to mention the "Rocky Horror Picture Show" bullpen.

Grady Little has managed the Red Sox to 188 wins in two years. He got them to the seventh game of the ALCS; they won six games this postseason, one more than they'd won since 1986. He has to be given credit for part of the camaraderie this team showed, especially after the crushing defeat, when players kept the visiting locker room door closed and huddled together for what one Sox official called "a near-religious experience ... one of the most remarkable things I've ever witnessed."

Were there managing quirks that piqued ownership and the front office during the season? Absolutely. But as Little was forced to twist in the wind, wondering if his 2004 option would be picked up -- which as yet it has not -- the sentiment had built for an extension.

Now, management wonders whether Grady Little can come back in the face of the backlash, or whether he even wants to come back to a region that wants an Operation Free Fenway. The players want him back, and there is the fear that if Ramirez couldn't find it in him to run out every ball in the Yankees series, he might completely melt down without the manager he trusts. No one knows that Bud Black can manage, because he hasn't, or whether Terry Francona is the answer.

Yet there are those within ownership who look at the final game as a microcosm of Little's Boston career. The hope was to get six innings out of Pedro Martinez, then go to Mike Timlin, Alan Embree and Scott Williamson; remember, the Red Sox got to Game 7 because of their heart and because of their bullpen, which had allowed two runs in its last 25 innings dating back to the second game of the Oakland series.

Boston got seven innings out of Pedro. Great. His average velocity was way down in the seventh inning, especially after that absurd seven-minute routine the Yankees pull in their seventh-inning stretch (Martiez ran to the mound and had to go back to the dugout). Pedro clearly thought he was through, both by what he said afterward and his actions in the dugout, putting on his jacket and hugging his teammates.

When David Ortiz homered in the top of the eighth, it made it easy for Little to have Timlin, Embree and Williamson do what they'd done: get six outs and allow no more than two runs. In fact, Timlin and Embree stopped warming up and watched. Before the game, Little acknowledged that Pedro was pitching on fumes. He had to know that from pitches 85 to 100 the league hit .230 off Martinez, but from 101 to 120 the number was .370. In essence, after 100 pitches Pedro turned into Alan Benes. Pedro completed one game all year, and what Little did all season was to get him out by the seventh.

Then the rest became hazy, as if there was some daze. OK, Grady went against what he'd done and planned to do and let Pedro start the inning ... but after getting Nick Johnson, when he got Derek Jeter 0-2 and missed with the next pitch by two feet ... rope double -- that was clearly the end. And forget the pre-Matsui trip; anyone who knows Pedro Martinez knows he would never say he couldn't get someone out.

Yeah, Jorge Posada hit a broken bat bloop for the tying runs, but that is not really the point. What some in ownership are asking Theo Epstein is whether blurred vision at a time of crisis management is what they want leading the Boston Red Sox.

It is a very tough call, just as Epstein has brutally tough calls in the next 12 months on the futures of Martinez, Garciaparra, Derek Lowe, Jason Varitek and Ortiz. There's a chance they will not be this close again soon, considering how many players had career years and the stiletto depth of the pitching.

It's a tough call for a very good man named Grady Little, who if he comes back, knows he has to live the next year in a region that doesn't just question him, it blames him.

News and notes
  • There are numerous reports that Billy Beane is a done deal in Los Angeles, but while it is a possibility in time, there is no contact between new owner Frank McCourt and Beane at the present. Dodger fans should be excited about the McCourt deal after years of the O'Malley family running one of baseball's three jeweled franchises like a family compound, then the present owners essentially running it with benign neglect. That the Dodgers are a middle-tier franchise in terms of revenue is an outrage.

  • Seattle is interviewing several candidates, but sources claim that former Angels and Red Sox GM Mike Port is the leader. Very good man.

  • The Reds three finalists are Rangers assistant GM Dan O'Brien, Expos GM Omar Minaya and Twins assistant GM Wayne Krivskey.

  • Let's see. The Mets fired Steve Phillips how many months ago and they still haven't made a decision? And this week is when GMs gather at the World Series? The notion of having Minaya and Jim Duquette as dual GMs under Jeff Wilpon is a distinct possibility, although folly. But then an advisory committee made up of certain players -- but not others -- is a creation of someone with no clue.

  • The White Sox managing job seems more and more likely to be headed to two-time world champion Cito Gaston, with Marlins coach Ozzie Guillen right behind Gaston.

  • All indications are that Peter Angelos wants Eddie Murray in Baltimore, but while Murray is brilliant and the true Oriole, the question will be how much he relates to today's players. If he can overlook the foibles of 21st-century players, Murray will be fine. But times change.





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