In his silence, Martinez delivers loud message

Through silence, Martinez still delivers loud message

Baseball

October 11, 2003|By Laura Vecsey

BOSTON - How might Pedro Martinez start off this afternoon against Yankees batters like Alfonso Soriano and Derek Jeter?

Is there any doubt Game 3 of this American League Championship Series will be no different from any other time Martinez has faced the Yankees - or any other opponents?

Let's go back to the beginning, when a 19-year-old Los Angeles Dodgers pitching prospect named Pedro Martinez was playing for Great Falls, Montana. It was September 1990, time for the Independent League playoffs. Great Falls was playing a Salt Lake City team loaded with former Double-A players.

"They were 25, 26, 27 years old. Very good team. Great Falls won one division and Salt Lake had won the other. Playoffs came in Salt Lake and Pedro was going to pitch the second game," Red Sox pitching coach Dave Wallace recalled yesterday.

"The first game came, I'm the Dodgers coordinator, I'm sitting in the stands watching all this. Salt Lake pummeled us, 18 runs, whatever it was. They killed us. Pedro just sat there, turned to me, and said, `I'm going to beat their ... tomorrow.' " Wallace said.

"The first pitch, he sent a message. That's all I'm going to say. He sent a message, then struck out about 12 or 13 guys and just shut them down. I just said, `OK.' "

A media boycott on the eve of Game 3 by the great Pedro Martinez could only do what the great Pedro Martinez hoped it might do:

Further fan the flames of intrigue of this reprise although no less epic showdown between himself, the great Pedro Martinez, and that former Red Sox and current Yankees pitcher, Roger Clemens.

Praise, Pedro!

He was no doubt out there somewhere in the city he owns, miles away from the brick architectural relic called Fenway Park. You could picture Martinez as the undisputed bantamweight champion, spry and edgy, ready to move up to the heavyweight division against the more beefy and more burly Rocket.

You could picture Martinez shuffling and bobbing under a big, hooded robe, jogging along the wind-chopped Charles River. The littlest Rocky.

He got the best of the matchup in the 1999 ALCS, beating Clemens and the Yankees before the Red Sox flamed out again. Now that Clemens is taking his farewell tour before retiring after this season, it is Martinez whose career and legend are still being crafted. He is in hiding, willing only to let his pitching do his talking.

As Clemens mellows, throwing no more splintered bat barrels, counseling younger players, being the clubhouse presence in New York he reportedly was not during all those tunnel-vision early years in Boston, Martinez simmers and stews.

He needs to exaggerate the words and deeds of his critics, especially the ones who questioned his sore throat in mid-August. That was the final straw the way the Boston writers and sports talk radio callers ripped him for missing a start. They questioned him, which was silly but certainly not worth the energy Martinez has expended icing out the world.

He went so far as to cordon off his locker with medical tape in the visitors' clubhouse at Yankee Stadium, muttering something about being a monkey in a cage. Such drama.

Ah, but that's the point. He got hot after getting his feelings hurt in August. He won six of his next seven starts, notching his 100th win for the Red Sox in a complete game Sept. 16.

It's another game within the game. It is Martinez's nature to do these things. It's what makes him good. What drives him.

If Clemens, 41, remains the ultimate power pitcher, then Martinez (who turns 32 on Oct. 25) is the artist. He's a brilliant one, with a mind capable of outfoxing a fox - and any major league hitter - and releasing a fastball that can zip and tail through the thin mouth of a mail slot.

He summons inspiration wherever he needs it.

"I think any great pitcher somehow builds in some incentive in important games," Red Sox pitching coach Dave Wallace said yesterday.

"Whether it's proving people wrong, if it's going against the "We Want Pedro" request at Yankee Stadium, whether it's shutting out the media or whether it's having an internal problem somehow that he's got: All those idiosyncrasies I think are self-induced provide an incentive for Pedro. And they are good ones," Wallace said.

Or maybe Martinez knows it's so much better to draw out the anticipation of this very big game (Martinez/Clemens) within an even bigger one (Red Sox/Yankees.)

Clemens could say yesterday that he does not look at his matchup today like he's going toe-to-toe against Martinez "because we're not in a boxing ring."

But why should that stop the rest of us from freezing and isolating this historic showdown and central aspect of this swing game?

When was the last time two Hall of Famer pitchers with such astounding stats and distinct personalities squared off?

When was the last time we were promised a tutorial on the fundamentals of pitching: intimidation, breaking down a batter, expanding the strike zone, establishing the inside corner, delivering what the big leaguers call "the bow tie"?

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