Ninety-nine pitches. That was the pitch count when Pedro Martinez walked off the mound in the bottom of the sixth inning.
Ninety-nine pitches. Two runs allowed, the second a tiebreaking solo home run by Hideki Matsui with two outs in that inning. Charlie Manuel met Martinez, pushed his face into his pitcher's face, asked the question that Martinez has been asked so often in his brilliant and star-crossed career.
``I'm all right,'' Martinez assured his manager.
You wonder what Grady Little was thinking in Hickory, N.C., if he was even watching. A similar conversation, in the eighth inning of a 2003 playoff game with the Yankees, cost him his job as Boston's manager. Then, Martinez talked his way into staying with a 5-2 lead in a Game 7. The Yankees tied that game, won it in extra innings on Aaron Boone's walkoff home run. This time, Martinez talked his way out with a simple statement, and all you could do is wonder how - and why?
In Game 2 of the National League Championship Series, Manuel did not ask. Eighty-seven pitches, a long fly ball to end the seventh inning. Then, seven shutout innings did not earn him the chance at eight. ``He was done,'' the manager said after the Phillies lost that game by a run, almost chuckling at the suggestion he be left out any longer.
Ninety-nine pitches. So why ask him this time? With J.A. Happ and Chad Durbin warmed up, with his entire bullpen sitting on a week's worth of rest, why, why, why?
There's only one possible reason. Manuel doesn't believe what the evidence has suggested, that his bullpen has righted itself this postseason. When he finally called on Chan Ho Park, after Martinez had surrendered consecutive singles to put runners at the corners with no one out, Park escaped with one run allowed and an inning-ending doubleplay.
Ryan Madson pitched a scoreless eighth.
The Yankees had the most potent offense in baseball this season, hit more home runs than everyone. Martinez had done what any optimistic fan could have asked, pitched six gritty innings, pitched his team into a chance to win on the road against the Grade A A.J. Burnett. One curveball, and not a particularly bad one, had broken a 1-1 tie that inning, but the truth is several Yankees had driven balls deep in the two innings before that. With his array of junk and judicious use of an 89 mile an hour fastball, Martinez was fooling them yes, striking out eight over those six innings.
But he was also, um, using the whole field to get his other outs.
``We can't really choose our destiny,'' he had said on the eve of last night's 2-1 series tying loss to the Yankees in Game 2 of the World Series, but the truth is, he has made a bad habit of doing just that.
Martinez has now had two chances to make his name synonymous with this postseason. He may have left too early in one, and stayed a bit too long in the other. The first time, destiny was chosen for him.
Tonight, he picked his poison. And Manuel poured it.
He's a first ballot Hall of Famer, and he's had some incredible moments along his long ride. But the overriding impression are nights like this one -- nights of a little too much, or not quite enough.