Martinez up, in on inside pitch

Baseball: The Red Sox ace's dominance on the mound can be traced - at least in part - to his command of a controversial and aggressive pitching tool.

May 11, 2000|By Peter Schmuck | Peter Schmuck,SUN STAFF

BOSTON - Apparently, there is only one way to stop Boston Red Sox pitcher Pedro Martinez.

Tell him to stay home.

Major League Baseball figured that out last week, suspending the two-time Cy Young Award winner for five days after he intentionally hit former Cleveland Indians second baseman Roberto Alomar on the backside with a pitch.

Of course, Martinez treated the suspension like just another flailing hitter, finessing it to the point where he would be pushed back just one day in the Red Sox rotation.

Welcome to Baltimore.

He originally figured to start the opener of the four-game series against the Orioles at Camden Yards. Instead, he will start the second game on five days rest, which - according to manager Jimy Williams - is the best way to pitch Martinez anyway.

This is life on the chain gang, major league baseball style. Martinez delayed his suspension long enough to make his scheduled start at Fenway Park on Saturday, then dropped his appeal immediately after the game. Since a starting pitcher usually works once every five days, a five-day suspension can be turned into a one-day suspension if the timing is right. The delay is unlikely to cost Martinez a single start over the course of the season.

If you are Roberto Alomar - who was once on the wrong end of a very famous five-game suspension himself - this cannot look like justice. But the Red Sox were so disgusted with baseball's decision to suspend Martinez (and only fine Indians pitcher Charles Nagy for a similar offense earlier in the game) that they could hardly hide their satisfaction with the way Bob Gibson and Don Drysdale did on the way to the Hall of Fame - and that clearly rankles today's more-sensitive hitters.

"We have an entire generation of hitters who have made it to the major leagues who are not accustomed to being pitched inside," said new major-league czar of discipline Frank Robinson, who is a strange ally, considering he was the one who ruled against Martinez. "I'm not talking about knockdowns or brushbacks. They just don't feel the pitcher has the right to pitch inside."

Martinez has been exercising that right since he arrived in the major leagues, enough so that after the Montreal Expos turned him into an everyday starting pitcher in 1994, he gained a reputation for being a "headhunter."

"He got that reputation in Montreal," said Devil Rays pitcher Dwight Gooden, who in his prime was every bit as aggressive and overpowering as Martinez is now, "but the type of pitcher he is ... his presence ... that's just part of the game. You have to pitch in. That's the key to Pedro's game."

Still, labels die hard, as evidenced by the reaction of second-year Indians catcher Einar Diaz to a fastball high and in. The pitch set in motion a chain of events that led to the fastball that hit Alomar and a bitter war of words between the Indians and Red Sox. Indians hitters accused Martinez of everything from reckless endangerment to extreme cowardice, the latter charge because Martinez intelligently stayed out of range when the benches cleared briefly during that April 30 game.

But the bottom line is the bottom line. Martinez is the most effective pitcher in the American League, and he didn't achieve that status by treating the game like a tea party.

"He's a tough dude," said former Red Sox teammate Mo Vaughn. "He doesn't back down to anybody. That's what makes him what he is. He's never going to back down. He pitches like you're going to take something from his family. That's how he pitches."

Martinez is not a big guy. He's just 5-11and 170pounds, but he throws as hard as anybody and doesn't give an inch on the mound, even as he insists that he isn't really such a no-holds-barred competitor.

"I don't see myself as aggressive," Martinez said. "I see myself as mellow ... calm, but if you [the media] say I am, I guess I am."

Take his last start, for instance. Martinez, who would have had every right to be distracted in the aftermath of the Cleveland controversy, struck out 17 Tampa Bay Devil Rays last Saturday in one of the most overpowering performances of his career. Never mind that the Rays managed to sneak away with a 1-0 victory, it was an amazing performance under any circumstances.

"He's a tremendous competitor, along with the kind of stuff he's got," said Mo Vaughn. "All he needs is one run. When he gets that one run, he smells it [victory]."

The loss, if it's even fair to call it that, ended an 11-game regular-season winning streak that dated back to Aug. 19. Since then, Martinez actually is 13-1 if you count the postseason. His ERA over that span is an incredible 0.84. It is a level of domination that humbles everyone currently throwing a baseball except equally intimidating Arizona Diamondbacks ace Randy Johnson.

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