Martinez, Sox just a win away, 4-1

His arm may not be what it was, but Martinez's heart still huge

World Series

Game 4: Today, 8:25 P.m., Chs. 45, 5

October 27, 2004|By Laura Vecsey

ST. LOUIS --- When he was a Los Angeles Dodgers prospect, not much more than Ramon Martinez's little brother, Pedro Martinez sat in the dugout charting pitches during a rookie league series in Salt Lake City.

His team was getting pummeled. The more runs the opposition racked up, the hotter Martinez got.

"He turned and said something I cannot repeat," said Red Sox pitching coach David Wallace, who was there that day as a Dodgers coordinator.

"Well, the next day, Pedro struck out 15. The first batter had to hit the dirt. It was unbelievable. That's innate ability. You don't teach that. That's just something that's inside."

That something inside is still there. But the arm? The promise? The future? It's different now.

Last night, the rain stopped just in time to roll back the tarp at Busch Stadium and prepare the mound for Game 3 of the World Series.

This was the Cardinals' first home Series game since 1987, an important bit of history -- especially since the Cardinals look to be in short supply of such games at the rate they're going.

But it was also Martinez's first World Series game -- a fitting reward for a pitcher who has the best winning percentage in major league history for anyone with more than 200 starts.

Then, swift as the Mississippi current after a storm, came the taunts:

"Pedro, Pedro, Pedro!"

Even here in the friendly heartland, Martinez was the subject of lusty derision. He's especially vulnerable to it now, when his mail-slot fastball and leather-scorching velocity have started to forsake him. No longer does he have the steady, reliable and overwhelming arsenal he once owned.

What they say about Martinez now is that he saves his bullets. No longer able to dominate batters, he instead seeks ways to minimize the damage.

Hence the early trouble last night as Martinez walked Larry Walker and Scott Rolen after Albert Pujols jammed a single at third baseman Bill Mueller.

Bases loaded, the Cardinals were desperate to gain a foothold in this Series: Why not take advantage of Martinez, the great pitcher whose career is at a crossroads at the exact time he has reached the pinnacle of anyone's baseball career?

A double play ended the trouble, not Martinez's arm. The Cardinals' sudden base-running incompetence would help Martinez, who eventually found his groove, hit his spots and racked up six strikeouts and 17 consecutive outs in seven innings of work.

The loss was the Cardinals'. They are seriously MIA in this World Series, with faint chance of inserting themselves into the action now, not the way they've faltered in every aspect of the game.

But the 4-1 win? It was Martinez's -- and maybe his last in a Red Sox uniform.

"I hope it isn't, but if it is, I just want the fans to know I did whatever I could for the team and the city to do my best to win," Martinez said.

"It's been a great ride. I hope everyone enjoyed it. Even with my struggles during the season, I enjoyed it. I wasn't the one who wanted to leave Boston. My heart is with Boston. The emotions are always going to be there. I will do my best to stay there, but if I go away, it will be with all respect for Boston and all the fans."

In a Red Sox postseason in which Curt Schilling has taken center stage, pitching the Yankees and now the Cardinals to a standstill, Martinez assumed the role of No. 2 starter.

While Schilling, Randy Johnson and Roger Clemens have been able to maintain their power and dominance as they reach and exceed age 40, Martinez has slowly succumbed to the very problem the Dodgers predicted he would one day have:

With him being so slight, the wear and tear on his arm would force a cap on how long and how hard he can throw. Even Martinez said he will not be pitching at age 40.

But he just turned 33 on Monday. He considers himself still worthy of mention as the top dog in baseball.

"Pedro's the man out there. We have a lot of confidence when he's out there. We know he's the best pitcher out there in both leagues. He gave us a chance to win today, and we did," Manny Ramirez said last night.

By definition, identity and legacy, Martinez is a Red Sox.

Underneath his many moods, his unique posturing, his demands, his eccentricities, and even through his relative detachment this season from the Red Sox organization, Martinez is a Red Sox.

His heart is in Boston, even when it is wounded or hardened by the games he has played. Being a media darling/foil/fodder takes its toll.

His soul is in Boston, even though speculation has his well-worn shoulder and shoulder-length curls in Anaheim or New York next season.

What a travesty that would be, even for a team that let Nomar Garciaparra go this season. This is different. Garciaparra was always on the fringe. Martinez has been smack in the middle -- including the middle of that most memorable smackdown in the history of Yankees/Red Sox lore.

Take away Martinez from the Red Sox and what do you have?

Plenty, sure.

Heavy hitters, a great closer, an ace in Curt Schilling.

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