Sometime later, amid the profound sadness in the Boston clubhouse, Little and Martinez shared a hug in a brief, private moment. Then the manager, a different kind of twinkle in his eye, looked at the pitcher he trusted more than anyone.
"Petey," Little said, "I might not be here anymore."
"Why?" Martinez said. "It's not your fault. It's up to the players. Any other situation I get the outs, and you're a hero."
And then Martinez spoke the creed.
"It wasn't meant to be."
Prior pitched in September and October last year with pain in his right Achilles tendon. After a winter of rest, it was no better in spring training. His throwing elbow throbbed too. He missed the first two months of this season. He finished 6--4 with a 4.02 ERA. When he looks back on Game 6, he likes to think the Marlins won it as much as the Cubs lost it.
"They had a good team," Prior says. "What happened out in leftfield, you wish it didn't happen. But they're not getting the respect they deserve as world champions. They played extremely hard. They kept coming at us with tough at bats.
"I remember feeling upset after the series. I was upset we lost. I wasn't upset with myself. I wasn't upset with Gonzo. He saved us runs all year. We just basically didn't execute."
After Game 7 of the ALCS, Martinez spent a few days sequestered in his Boston home, playing pool, watching television and reading. "Nothing to do with baseball," he says. He finally decided to go out. He went to the Prudential Center mall in downtown Boston to begin his Christmas shopping.
"As soon as I got in the Prudential, I was surrounded by people," he says. "Everyone just came up to me and said, 'We're so proud of you. It doesn't matter if we're not going to the World Series. You did all you had to do.' It really made me feel better.