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Head games

Frustrated Martinez succumbs to Yankees' domination after latest loss

Updated: Tuesday September 28, 2004 10:36PM
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Pedro Martinez
The Red Sox have lost three of Pedro Martinez's four starts against the Yankees this season.
Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

There was a vacancy in his eyes and resignation in his voice. Pedro Martinez looked like a beaten man, not just the losing pitcher in a baseball game. The same man who said, "Wake up the Bambino, I'll drill him in the ass," the same man who came out of the bullpen in the 1999 playoffs with a tear in his shoulder and no-hit the Indians for six innings, the same man known to be one of the meanest, most driven hombres in the world with a baseball in his hand ... this was the same man?

It will go down in Yankees-Red Sox lore as the Daddy Speech, in honor of this highlight in Martinez's interview session after a 6-4 loss to New York on Friday: "What can I say? I tip my hat and call the Yankees my daddy."

There was more to it, of course. Martinez, speaking while seated in front of a packed room of reporters in a news conference setting, said he didn't want to pitch against the Yankees again: "I hope they ... disappear and never come back. I would rather like to face any other team right now."

He said he wasn't trying to show up manager Terry Francona when he turned his back as Francona came to the mound to remove him from the game. "It was all me," Martinez explained. "I wanted to bury myself on the mound."

I left that news conference room in disbelief. Why would such a fierce competitor admit defeat so publicly? I could never imagine Roger Clemens or Randy Johnson, for instance, throwing in the towel like that. Martinez's comments were the buzz of both clubhouses the next day. And the question was the same from both sides: why?

"Frustration," Red Sox pitcher Curt Schilling said. "We've all been there." I pointed out to Schilling that this was not some heat-of-the-moment, blowing-off-steam, off-the-cuff slip. Martinez had been out of the game for more than an hour when he made the comments. The game had been over for 35 minutes before he showed up in the room. That is a much, much longer cooling off period than normal. Martinez had plenty of time to mull over his game and to measure his words. "No," Schilling said. "Sometimes it takes a lot longer --- hours -- to cool down. And you have to remember that English is not his native language, too."

While that may be true, I have found Martinez to be one of the most insightful, engaging and observant interviews I've ever come across in baseball, regardless of native tongue. "Nobody's upset at him," Schilling said. "I'm sure we'll get on him about it a little bit. We'll kid around about it. I can't wait to get one of the [Who's Your Daddy?] T-shirts in New York. But it doesn't last. With the Red Sox and Yankees, every story has a 24-hour shelf life and then you're on to something else. It's not that big a deal."

The Yankees, as expected, expressed more surprise at Martinez's concession. Maybe this is what happens when you play in New York, where conspiracy and subterfuge are never far from your mind, but the Yankees had trouble accepting Martinez's words and emotions at face value. "Pedro is very, very smart," one of them said with a smile.

So why would Martinez say it? A couple of Yankees theories:

a.) He's setting them up. You know, let the Yankees believe they're in his head, then he shoves a no-run, 15-strikeout game down their throats in the ALCS.

b.) He is starting free-agent negotiations with the Yankees. This was the olive branch; bow down to the Yankees and then you, too, may be considered for The Empire.

Me, I'll take none of the above. I don't believe Pedro walked into that room with a motivation in mind. Did you see his face upon giving up the game-tying home run to Hideki Matsui in the eighth? The lights went out. He looked lost, spent. The Yankees are inside his head. He's lost his mojo against them ever since Gary Sheffield threatened to snap him in half after Sheffield called for time and got beaned by Martinez, who already was in his windup.

Well, Alex Rodriguez asked for time last Friday with Martinez revving up to deliver a pitch and Pedro came back this time with ... nothing. In fact, in his past two starts against New York, Martinez did nothing to claim ownership of the inside half of the plate. New York hitters were comfortable with diving out against pitches away because Martinez did not buzz anyone on the hands with fastballs.

The Yankees have knocked the bully out of Martinez. Of the past 23 times Martinez has started against New York, the Red Sox are 6-17. "It's stupid," Martinez said. "It's frustrating."

Of course, Martinez never should have been out there in the eighth inning to allow this to happen again. Francona must have been out of the country last October, or how else can you explain him giving a dead-on impression of Grady Little and his fireable offense from Game 7? Next thing you know he'll leave a high-topped Kevin Millar at first base in the ninth inning of Game 6 of the World Series rather than putting in Doug Mientkiewicz for defense. Francona acquitted himself poorly by explaining that he left Martinez in after the homer because he would have looked foolish to take a guy out just two pitches after having him start the inning. His job as a manager is to make the right decisions, regardless of how he thinks it might make him look.

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The entire complexion of the game changed after those two pitches. Nine-Inning Pedro hasn't been seen for a long time. He's no longer a closer. He's Greg Maddux, still great at what he does but with fewer bullets. Somewhat lost in The Daddy Game was the possibility that it was Martinez's last game in a Red Sox uniform at Fenway Park. That will turn out to be the case if the Red Sox are the wild card, Martinez starts Game 2, the Sox do not advance, and Martinez signs with another club. The Red Sox want Martinez back -- and there's still a better chance that he will be back than he won't -- but as they showed with Nomar Garciaparra, they're smart enough to understand that the worst crime in running a baseball team is to fall in love with your own players. Getting no deal is better than getting a bad one.

The Red Sox do fear the possibility that Martinez will wind up in New York. And if George Steinbrenner decides he wants the guy, even if his baseball people don't, that just might happen. (They think there's a better chance Garciaparra, a longtime Steinbrenner favorite, will wind up with Derek Jeter and Alex Rodriguez as the second baseman in George's dream infield.) But the Red Sox have shown they're also smart enough to stay away from Kevin Brown/Mike Hampton/Jason Giambi albatross contracts that seem to go on forever.

Martinez still is an elite pitcher, but he turns 33 next month and has fewer 200 inning seasons than Brad Radke. He's likely to get something between the $13 million per year the Mets gave Tom Glavine (three years plus an option) and the $16 million per year the Diamondbacks gave Randy Johnson (two years). Martinez has much great baseball left in his arm, but will any team fully guarantee him four years?

The contract issue can wait. For now, it's as if everybody is waiting for ALCS III between the Yankees and Red Sox (following 1999 and 2003) to see what else Pedro has up his sleeve. I'm not so sure about that. I'll save my postseason picks until the matchups are actually set, but I have a feeling the Red Sox and Yankees will not be seeing one another again this year.

Sports Illustrated senior writer Tom Verducci covers baseball for the magazine and is a regular contributor to SI.com.