Pedro keeps 'em guessing even when not on mound

Baseball

April 07, 2004|By LAURA VECSEY

PEDRO MARTINEZ had little to say, but it was enough: "I am so mad, I'm going to explode."

He talked about love and hate and the thin line between the two. Sounded like Boston and what the city feels about its ace.

They love him. They hate him. They call him names like selfish, disrespectful, malcontent. He is outraged, but theatrically so. The drama is good enough for Broadway. Would he leave Boston for New York?

"In my next life, I don't want to be a pitcher," he said.

"It's too hard. I want to be a dog."

What would the world be like if Pedro Martinez was merely a great pitcher?

What would it be like if he did not alternately thrive on and rail against the exaggerated attention he draws to himself by way of his arm, his head, his words, his mind games?

What would the world be like if this master of mail-slot fastballs and backbreaking change-ups were possibly, for him, facing the prospect of an "off-year" which is also a contract year, so he will use whatever means necessary to maintain his edge, his negotiating power?

Boring. Boring. Boring.

So Curt Schilling won his first game with the Red Sox yesterday, beating the Orioles 18 years after he was drafted by Boston. Secondary story.

So the UConn men and women won the NCAA basketball titles in an unprecedented sweep. When they say New England is a region, they do not ever mean that anything Connecticut could supplant anything Red Sox in Red Sox Nation.

Not when Pedro Gate, Part 749, was in full swing.

Yesterday afternoon, Boston writers exited the Red Sox clubhouse at 1:24, abandoning the pre-game Pedro Martinez watch. Pedro Martinez, all alone, strolled in at 1:29.

Coincidence?

Come on.

Martinez must have gotten the call from the dugout, where manager Terry Francona and general manager Theo Epstein huddled: Coast is clear. You can come in now to talk to us.

See, after Martinez left Camden Yards on Sunday night before the final out was recorded in the Orioles' 7-2 win, Martinez has caught some major league flak, mostly from the Boston scribes who must chronicle every square inch of the Red Sox, especially now with The Rivalry amplifying already rabid interest.

In a nutshell, the headlines and subtext read: Pedro disrespects his teammates. Pedro the Diva is testing new manager Francona. Pedro the Great is an ace whose bad hand could deal the Red Sox trouble in the quest to end the Curse.

It was Day One of the 2004 season and Pedro Martinez had been buried, again, in his adopted hometown.

"All it's going to take to fix it is for Francona to talk to Pedro, tell him the rules are you stay in the clubhouse until the last out. End of story," Jim Palmer said.

"There are rules, but to think some guys aren't treated differently, come on. I was treated differently. I left early, once. I gave up three home runs and didn't want to pay the babysitter more money," Palmer said, winking.

Pedro Martinez winks, too. He bobs and weaves like the bantamweight fighter he is. If his knockout punch has lost its sting, he is still the master of deception. Nothing is necessarily as it seems with Boston's artist-in-residence.

Senor Plunk nails Alfonso Soriano and Derek Jeter, and they're off: Red Sox and Yankees with something else to fight about.

Senor Smackdown sent Don Zimmer to the grass and they're off, again.

Senor Meltdown drilled Yankee right fielder Karim Garcia in the ALCS last October, then asked with indignation, "Who is that guy to question me?"

Senor Seventeen Point Five Million Dollars wants his contract option picked up, so last spring, way before the Red Sox had to commit, they made Martinez the highest-paid pitcher in baseball this season.

Now he's facing free agency, so the favorite plot is how Martinez will switch to pinstripes, the way Roger Clemens eventually did. As if George Steinbrenner wouldn't pay Martinez to pitch six innings a start, if only to mock the Red Sox.

But the Red Sox would never let it get that far, would they?

It doesn't appear so. The Red Sox and Martinez are negotiating, but until it's done, Martinez is fully capable of goofing on everyone, at anytime.

In fact, what was it that Martinez had on his mind as he so studiously avoided the pre-game showdown with the media that attempts to define him, yet can't quite get it right?

Maybe it was the old Joni Mitchell tune: "Don't it always seem to go that you don't know what you've got 'til it's gone."

So what if Martinez is a six- or seven-inning pitcher now. Grady Little is gone. So what if he doesn't throw 95 mph anymore.

"He's smart enough to know he doesn't need to, but I'd be peeved if I was him and woke up and read every day I couldn't dominate anymore," said Orioles DH David Segui, a friend of Martinez's.

As for any truly great athlete, the standard has always been higher for Martinez. He lost Cy Youngs only because it seemed too obvious to give them to him again. But now it's as much about rattling his cage.

"Leave Pedro alone," said Martinez's friend, Manny Ramirez.

"Pedro is the best. He can do whatever he wants. He can throw 50 mph and still get people out. Everybody leave him alone."

His quirks should be appreciated, indulged. Why? Because what would the world be like if Pedro Martinez were merely great and not the caged and cagey cat that he is?

Boring.

They won't know what they had 'til he's gone, if he leaves Boston. Or comes back in his next life as a dog.

Note to Pedro: We in Baltimore would never say anything bad about your velocity.

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