Martinez's dangerous pitch serves no useful purpose

League Championship Series

October 12, 2003|By LAURA VECSEY

BOSTON - If Pedro Martinez was going to lose Game 3 of the American League Championship Series, he was going to make it good.

Or, rather, he was going to make it bad. And ugly. And stupid. And dangerous.

What a terrible way for a divine day of baseball to implode. All testosterone and self-importance and exposed, jittery nerves. And all in Technicolor on national TV, right down to Yankees bench coach Don Zimmer going after Martinez with hands ready to throttle the Red Sox ace, and Martinez pushing the 72-year-old Zimmer to the grass.

Capping this night of championship baseball was a ninth-inning bullpen brawl that police said late last night might result in two Yankees being charged with assault.

Police did not release the players' names, but Yankees reliever Jeff Nelson and right fielder Karim Garcia allegedly left cleat marks on the body of a Fenway Park grounds crew worker who, for his day job, is a teacher for the mentally disabled.

It all started with that "purpose pitch."

What was Martinez doing, throwing a high, hard one directly at Garcia in the fourth inning? All the Yankees had done at that point was draw a walk and knock a few hits over the heads of outfielders Manny Ramirez and Trot Nixon.

Martinez's decision to fire things up - himself and the Yankees - must have had something to do with Derek Jeter, one of Martinez's favorite targets.

Makes you wonder what Martinez would have done if Yankees owner George Steinbrenner had been in the batter's box.

Martinez issued the quote of the summer, saying Steinbrenner might have the money to buy every player in the league, but "Georgie Porgy doesn't have enough money to put fear in my heart."

Oh, the love. But instead of aiming at Georgie Porgy, Jeter has served as the object of Martinez's obsession.

In the third inning last night, Jeter blasted a first-pitch, bases-empty homer to tie the score 2-2. Jeter and Martinez have a history, not the least of which was this season's pitch to Jeter's hands at Yankee Stadium in July, the same inning Martinez also plunked Alfonso Soriano.

Jeter's thumb still hurts from that July hit, but last night the shortstop tagged Martinez good. No doubt that homer prompted Martinez to resort to guerrilla tactics in the fourth.

"There's no question in my mind that Pedro hit him on purpose. Second and third, nobody out, left-handed hitter, right-handed hitter on deck. He can thread the needle any time he wants," manager Joe Torre said later, after the Yankees had locked down a 4-3 win to take a 2-1 lead in this now red-alert ALCS.

The rivalry between these two AL East juggernauts is now officially something else. What it is exactly will require investigations by any of the following: Boston police, Major League Baseball, Yankees attorneys, Red Sox attorneys and Fenway security personnel. It also might require a shrink and a leather couch for the ever-increasingly "idiosyncratic" Martinez.

But make no mistake, the rivalry turned very ugly during last night's lawless game of beanball. The Evil Empire looks a little less evil - or at least the Yankees are attempting to position themselves as victims.

"It was outrageous, that's all I'll say. There's an attitude of lawlessness that's permeating everything and it needs to be corrected," Yankees president Randy Levine said.

This rivalry had already turned a sinister shade of green the minute the Red Sox lost their bid to sign Cuban pitcher Jose Contreras. Words were slung (Red Sox president Larry Lucchino called the Yankees the Evil Empire). Characters were defamed (Steinbrenner called Lucchino a chameleon).

For a while, it was humorous. Let the Yankees and Red Sox knock the stuffing out of each other. Let them make for goofy back-page headline fodder for the New York and Boston tabloids.

Well, now it's something else, something unseemly. Baseball's two biggest spenders and biggest rivals making war with each other - right on baseball's biggest stage.

That it will pump up ratings shouldn't do anything to diminish the embarrassment the Yankees and Red Sox should feel regarding the tempestuous positions they have staked with each other.

"A national television audience saw this shameful disgrace. It's not good for baseball. It's not good for anybody. And it was anticipated," Levine said, noting that the Yankees had called Major League Baseball president Bob DuPuy on Friday.

The Yankees wanted to discuss with the commissioner's office their concern that something like this would happen.

"If you recall, two of our players were hit and then there was an incident earlier in the year, certain behavior, wagging fingers and such. This is not a baseball issue. It's a safety issue. When people throw at somebody's head ... " Levine said.

But the Yankees may not get the kind of sympathy they're looking for. Maybe this is a drilling and brushback of the Yankees that others besides the Red Sox secretly feel is appropriate.

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