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Instead of Pedro of old, we're just getting plain old Pedro

Posted: Friday October 15, 2004 12:19PM; Updated: Friday October 15, 2004 2:50PM
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I'm not accusing the Coast Guard of not having a perfectly good reason to interrupt Tiger Woods' Caribbean honeymoon. But if I were commanding a Coast Guard cutter and was on the fence about boarding a vessel that may or may not have violated a technicality of maritime law, I think the chance to storm the deck of a 900-foot yacht named "Privacy" would be too much to resist. Tiger snaps when fans respire during his backswing. Hope he wasn't lining up a shuffleboard shot when his boat got pulled over.

I wish I could wax about something other than the Red Sox-Yankees smackdown. (Something of a rivalry between those two squads, you know.) But in New England, where I live, all other news has been blotted from the airwaves. Tonight it's Kevin Brown against Bronson Arroyo -- or, as Tim McCarver referred to him at least twice during Fox's Game 1 broadcast -- "Brandon" Arroyo. Red Sox Nation needs a hug and, while an embrace is pretty easy to come by these days, Boston's in deep trouble.

I can't remember two better-pitched back-to-back postseason games against as good an offensive team as the Red Sox, who, I have to assume, will explode now that the series has shifted to Fenway Park. In hindsight the gems spun by Mike Mussina in Game 1 and Jon Lieber in Game 2 shouldn't be surprising. Ever since he threw 8 2/3 perfect innings at Fenway a few years ago -- probably the best-pitched game I've ever seen -- I've expected Mussina to flirt with a no-hitter every time out. And I had a feeling Lieber was going to pitch well in Game 2. He came close to no-hitting the Red Sox in September, and people seem to have forgotten that before he had Tommy John surgery he was a 20-game winner.

Watching Game 2 I thought back to something Kerry Wood told me a couple years ago when he was coming back from the same procedure. (I think Al Leiter made the same point during the broadcast.) That once-revolutionary operation has become so routine and is so advanced that about 18 months after they go under the knife pitchers feel stronger than they did before they got hurt. It's getting ahead of things, but I'm putting Lieber on my list of 2005 Cy Young candidates.

Speaking of Lieber, who was more uncomfortable during Kenny Albert's in-game interview with his father -- Papa Lieber or those of us who watched it? I know the man-in-the-stands reporter is required viewing these days, and it must be tough to find good people to talk to. Lieber's dad seemed like a nice enough guy, not much of a conversationalist, but that's beside the point. We don't need to see interviews with the parents of 34-year-old men who have pitched in the major leagues for 10 years. Unless Lieber's dad was driving the Yanks to McDonald's after the game, save the proud papa stuff for the Little League World Series.

Then again, the interview fit the theme of Game 2: We now know who both starting pitchers' daddies are. Lost in all the paternity hype was the fact that if things go horribly wrong at Fenway this weekend that might have been Pedro Martinez's last appearance for the Red Sox. He's a free agent after the season. If you were a major-league GM, would you sign him?

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Of course you would -- if you could get him for, say, two years at $8 million per. Martinez has said he expects to take a pay cut from the $17.5 million he got this season, but he's not going to come down that far. I honestly think whichever team ends up signing him will get burned on the deal. On paper Martinez pitched pretty well in Game 2 -- three runs, six innings -- but there's clearly something wrong with him. His demeanor on the mound is a far cry from what it was when he was in his prime. He works slowly. He worries excessively about runners on base, even when he has a hitter in a two-strike hole. He seemed paranoid that the Yankees were stealing his signs early in the game, and I wonder if the mental energy he expended on that issue contributed to his wildness early in the game. And he doesn't put hitters away like he once did; when John Olerud hit his home run, on an 0-2 pitch no less, Martinez missed his target by over a foot. Instead of wasting a changeup six inches outside, he grooved a waist-high fastball.

It's hard to imagine the younger Pedro making that same mistake. Now, he did set the bar for himself absurdly high early in his career. It's unrealistic to expect him to keep that pace. Still ... Is he hurt? Has he lost his mojo? Who knows. My theory: He's healthy but is petrified that he's going to reinjure his shoulder, which has bothered him off and on for the past few years. DNA might be more important than ERA to Pedro right now. His brother Ramon's rotator cuff shredded, forcing him to retire after 14 seasons at age 33. Pedro, who's finishing his 13th season, turns 33 in 10 days.

Whatever it is, Martinez is feeling unsure of himself, which is why he's pitching tentatively (did he even buzz any Yankee hitters in Game 2?) and giving increasingly strange and philosophical postgame press conferences. Every team in the league would kill to have Martinez in its rotation. But it's hard not to think that he's on a steep career decline.

Did the non-orthopedists out there know that tendons had sheaths before the details of Curt Schilling's ankle injury came out? Red Sox fans are familiar with troublesome sheaths. It was a torn wrist tendon sheath that destroyed Nomar Garciaparra's 2001 season. Sheath tears seem to be pretty rare. (Or maybe most teams don't go into such detail when players go down with tendon woes.) Did Nomar inflict a sub-curse on the Boston franchise before he left town this summer? A quick Lexis-Nexis search reveals that only four players since 2000 (yes, there's a good chance I missed somebody) have gone down with shorn sheaths: Schilling, Nomar, Rangers pitcher Jay Powell and -- ghost alert! -- Ken Caminiti. Hmmmmm.

Yes, the NHL season should have begun this week, but there's plenty of alternative entertainment available to the wayward hockey fan. Mark your calendars: On Oct. 28th the Discovery Channel will air Turf Rockets: The Cutting Edge!, a one-hour documentary on "America's fastest growing grass roots motorsports circuit," the National Lawn Mower Racing Series. (Check out www.letsmow.com for more info.) Wonder if this guy has signed up to race yet.

Finally, at times like this it must be fun to be a cop.

Sports Illustrated staff writer Stephen Cannella covers the NHL for the magazine and contributes frequently to SI.com.

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