Sox manager still taking the heat

Red Sox manager Grady Little stuck with Pedro Martinez in the seventh game of the AL Championship Series because he believed his ace was throwing as well in the eighth inning as throughout the game.

Little spoke at length Saturday for the first time since Boston blew a 5-2 lead in the eighth Thursday night and lost to New York 6-5 in 11 innings. Martinez allowed three runs that tied the game as the Yankees produced four straight one-out hits -- all with two-strike counts -- against him.

Little has been severely criticized by Boston columnists and talk-show hosts and callers who want him gone.

"A lot of people have the answers after the results come in," he said.

Team officials have declined comment on whether they will pick up Little's contract option for next season, although a decision is expected soon.

"If people want to judge Grady Little on the results of a decision I made in that last game the other day, so be it," he said, speaking slowly and calmly in his Fenway Park office. "In my heart, I know we had a great season here."

Club officials told Little in spring training that his future would be addressed after the season.

"That's a tough situation for one to be in throughout the course of a season in this market, but whatever they want to do now I respect," Little said. "I sleep good because I know I have confidence in myself and I know that what we did here this year was special. It was special to a lot of people."

In his two seasons as manager, the Red Sox were 93-69 and 95-67. Team chemistry improved dramatically this year with the acquisitions of Kevin Millar, David Ortiz and others. With the
majors' best offense and a resiliency that allowed it to rally from a two-game deficit in the AL Division Series with Oakland and a 3-2 deficit against the Yankees, the club reached the seventh game of
the ALCS for the first time since 1986.

The Red Sox lost the World Series in seven games that year after Bill Buckner's error in Game 6 allowed the winning run to score in a tense game won by the New York Mets 6-5.

The stress level was high among Red Sox players in their 12 playoff games this season, eight decided by one or two runs. They also carried a history of a franchise that hadn't won the World Series since 1918.

"I've got people on that field out there throughout that game in the seventh game the other day thinking about Bill Buckner," Little said. "That's a tough situation to be in."

His players knew that one mistake could cost them a World Series berth. Little took responsibility for keeping Martinez in the game won by the Yankees on Aaron Boone's solo homer off Tim Wakefield in
the 11th.

"I'm thankful that it's me instead of one of my players" taking the blame, Little said. "If we don't win the World Series, which is the definition of winning here, somebody's got to be that man and I'm just glad it's me instead."

Catcher Jason Varitek said the quality of Martinez's pitches didn't change late in the game.

"You can beat this one to death," he said of the decision to stick with Martinez, a three-time Cy Young award winner who led the AL in ERA this season. "I think that we, as players, need to accept the responsibility."

He said that when Little went to the mound with the score 5-3 and runners at second and third with one out in the eighth, he agreed with the decision to leave Martinez in, even though Boston's relievers had pitched very well.

"Pedro was throwing as well in that seventh and eighth inning as he had the whole game," Little said. "When he gets into a jam, he's the one I want out there trying to get out of that jam more than anyone else, as long as he's got enough left in his arm."

Little said four managers called him to say they would have done the same thing.

But after the game "there was a clubhouse full of tears," he said.

For now, Little planned to leave that behind and return home to North Carolina this weekend with his future uncertain.

"We want to make sure that we make decisions amid calm and not amid everybody's natural disappointment," said Charles Steinberg, Boston's executive vice president for public affairs.

Varitek, packing boxes in the clubhouse before his trip home to Georgia, credited Little with fostering an atmosphere in which players cared for each other and distractions were kept in check.

"There's probably a billion things that happened in the clubhouse this year that could have destroyed this team, but they didn't," Varitek said.

But will togetherness, two 90-win seasons and a seven-game ALCS save Little's job? And what about fans who were excited by Boston's playing style -- and then turned against Little for sticking with

"It bothers me when people, all they can remember, is the last game," he said.