Martinez and Red Sox close in, 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? Not now.

Last night, the rain stopped 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 Series home game since 1987, an important bit of history - especially since they look to be in short supply of World Series games at the rate they"re going.

But it was also Martinez's first 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 an opposing lineup, he instead seeks ways to minimize the damage.

Hence the early trouble last night when he 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 World 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 be Martinez's best weapon.

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

It is indeed a strange twist. It still feels alien, even if Martinez had already transitioned from power pitcher to something else over the past two seasons.

While Schilling, Randy Johnson and Roger Clemens have been able to maintain their power and dominance as they reach and exceed 40, Martinez is apparently succumbing to the very problem he was predicted he would one day have:

Being so slight, the wear and tear on his arm would cap how long and how hard he could throw.

Martinez has said there's no way he"ll be pitching when he's 40. That's by physical necessity, because his self-image and competitive fire would certainly dictate otherwise.

Martinez took the mound last night, no longer the skinny kid the Dodgers gave up on, but the 33-year-old free agent-to-be. Was it his last start with the Red Sox?

Let's hope not. He is a Red Sox - by definition, identity and legacy.

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.

Nomar was always on the fringe. Pedro has been smack dab in the middle - including the middle of that most memorable smackdown in the history of Yankees-Red Sox lore.

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

Plenty, sure.

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

You"ve got a knuckleball pitcher in Tim Wakefield who seems capable of starting or working relief anytime you need him; a leadoff hitter in Johnny Damon who had one of the most productive seasons ever in that role.

You've got an ownership group and front office that likes a little war of words - and payroll - with the team otherwise known as the "Evil Empire."

No question that without him, there's talent and theatrics galore, from Cowboys to Idiots to wild-card chasers nipping at the heels and finally conquering the New York Yankees.

Boston without Pedro Martinez is more than enough to keep the Red Sox a headline act wherever it goes, whatever it does.

But is that really enough? Wouldn't something be missing, wouldn't something wrong: A Red Sox team sans Pedro?

The Red Sox have their new ace. They paid Schilling a $25 million extension to come to Boston - to bolster their World Series chances and to relieve Martinez, especially if Martinez does not re-sign.

But is that really enough?

Without Martinez, something would be missing for the Red Sox. The closer the Sox get to winning their first World Series since 1918, the more Martinez and the Sox must be willing to come to a meeting of the minds.

When Martinez was the Red Sox's ace, he commanded someone to wake up Babe Ruth so "I can drill him in the [rear end]'.

The fighting spirit of this little guy has helped push the Red Sox to this stage, this amazing moment. Martinez and his employers should celebrate this impending reversal of the curse for a few years - together.

Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.