IF PEDRO Martinez were talking to the media - and he's not, thanks to Boston sportswriters who called Pedro a "diva" last week and radio callers who stupidly accused a sore-throated Pedro of ducking the Oakland Athletics - he'd tell you he sees fear.
This season, this September, the Yankees fear the Red Sox.
Barry Bonds is on a tear, the Marlins are the darlings of baseball, the White Sox and Cubs are toddlin' together in Chicago, but nothing quite compares to the escalating war of words and games. Boston and New York are on edge.
"People are scared," Boston center fielder Johnny Damon said about Yankees fans.
With all but six of the remaining games against the Red Sox and Yankees, the Orioles (and fans) get front-row seats to the tabloid-ready contentiousness. It's fine to revel in the role of spoiler. It's far more entertaining to keep score of the Sox and Yanks' mutual obsession.
As for Martinez's decision to no longer speak to the media, it's just a tantalizing mini-drama within the September epic. The people in Boston are so jacked (i.e., nervous) about the Red Sox's chance of winning the division, the otherwise intense scrutiny of Martinez has turned insane. Now, Martinez swears he'll never volunteer to translate another quote from the reluctant Manny Ramirez anymore, either.
Because the bright, insightful and usually accommodating Martinez must uphold his decision not to engage in discussions with any members of the media, Martinez will tell you: I won't tell you about the Yankees, but ask Kevin Millar what he saw in the Yankees' eyes last weekend in New York; it was fear.
This alleged Yankees fear was apparently visible when Boston shellacked the Bombers in the first two games of their most recent series. The Sox won, 9-1, last Friday and, 11-0, on Saturday before the achy-breaky David Wells (whom pitching coach Mel Stottlemyre challenged two weeks ago to shape up, quick) got a "must win" on Sunday.
A must win: That was according to the Yankees, who are desperate to keep ahead of the Red Sox in the American League East. That win against the Red Sox also soothed manager Joe Torre's sensitive soul and, more important, got George "I'm Not Going To Fire Torre" Steinbrenner to shut the heck up, especially about how Torre should stop hugging those overpaid, under-productive players.
Could the Boss have been talking about the slumping Jason Giambi, the most overpaid, one-dimensional player on the Yankees' payroll?
The Yankees aren't supposed to win the division, they're supposed to run away with it, especially after they outfoxed the Red Sox on Cuban pitcher Jose Contreras and made maverick Red Sox general manager Theo Epstein look (for one day) like the 29-year-old rookie he is. That was the tone set in spring, when the Yankees were stocked with pitching and a lock for a fifth World Series title since 1996.
Now, things are very different. The legitimate question is whether the beginning of the end of the latest Yankees dynasty is upon us.
"Yeah, they're definitely not what they were," Damon said about the 2003 Yankees.
"All the changes they've gone through, it's been a very trying time for Mr. Torre. He's had a lot of players, and it's tough finding a lineup when they're making a lot of moves. They're still the team to beat, but we feel like we can play them very well. Our job is to keep them out of the postseason," Damon said.
You are starting to get the picture. The rivalry is taking new twists almost hourly. Not that it needs any to stay juicy. The backlog of cat-fighting for this season started with the Contreras signing this spring and the name-calling between Red Sox president Larry Lucchino, who called the Yankees the "evil empire," and Steinbrenner, who called Lucchino a "chameleon." Dueling GMs Brian Cashman and Epstein have played chess all summer, trying to checkmate the other with more trades than NASDAQ.
Flames were further fanned after Martinez hit Derek Jeter and Alfonso Soriano in early July, prompting both stars to leave the game and Steinbrenner to call on Major League Baseball to investigate. Oh, the injustice! Steinbrenner's crying jag - he literally cried in the press box after the game - led Boston manager Grady Little to remind Steinbrenner about Roger Clemens' proclivity for head hunting.
Topping it all off, Martinez issued the baseball quote of the summer:
"Georgie Porgie, he might buy the whole league, but he doesn't have enough money to buy fear to put in my heart," Martinez told The Hartford Courant, back when he was speaking on the record.
Those were the days. Then again, so are these days.