Older, wiser Martinez outshines Chamberlain in return to mound
There is always something satisfying about seeing the wise old codger outperform the strong young buck. It reinforces so much of what we've been taught -- that the race doesn't always go to the swiftest, that brain power can overcome raw power. For all of us, young, old or in between, it's comforting to be reminded that there actually is life after we've passed our physical prime.
So it was reassuring to see Pedro Martinez, the New York Mets 36-old soft-tosser, beat Joba Chamberlain, the New York Yankees 21-year-old flame-thrower, on Tuesday night, except, of course, for Yankee fans. You might argue that Martinez didn't actually beat Chamberlain, inasmuch as they pitched in different games 3,000 miles apart. But make no mistake, Martinez and Chamberlain were matched against each other in important ways. They were two Big Apple pitchers, joining or re-joining their team's starting rotation, with their respective fan bases both hoping that their arrival would propel their team to the top of their divisions.
For now at least, Mets fans have more reason to be optimistic. Martinez was not quite masterful, but he was plenty good enough to subdue the San Francisco Giants in the Mets' 9-6 road victory on Tuesday, pitching six innings and giving up seven hits and three runs, two of which came after the Mets had blown the game open with an eight-run fifth. Chamberlain, meanwhile, left the crowd at Yankee Stadium clearly disappointed, lasting only 2 1/3 innings in a 9-3 loss to the Toronto Blue Jays. Though he gave up only one hit and one run, Chamberlain had a messy outing, walking four, committing a balk and struggling with his control from the start.
The way they departed from their games told the story. Chamberlain, who was thriving as a reliever until the Yanks gave in to temptation and moved him into the starting rotation, walked into the dugout and fired his glove against the dugout wall in disgust. "I was mad at myself," he said. Martinez all but danced a little jig as he walked toward the dugout, smiling and pointing happily at his teammates. But the contrast is even more evident on the mound. Even at less than his best, Chamberlain looks overpowering, with a fastball that melts radar guns. Martinez once had a heater that could have rivaled Chamberlain's, but it's long gone due to age and injury.
Now he keeps the ball on the edges of the strike zone and moves the ball in and out and never seems to throw the same pitch at the same speed twice. During spring training, before the hamstring pull in the second game of the season shelved him until Tuesday, Martinez once said to pitching coach Rick Peterson, "Don't call me Pedro, call me Picasso." He does work much like an artist, with touch and feel and flair -- and with a pedestrian fastball that rarely breaks 90 mph. If Chamberlain's heater is a Maserati, ultra fast but difficult to harness, Martinez's is a minivan, unexciting but quite useful.
It wasn't hard to tell which pitcher was more comfortable on the mound. In his short stint Chamberlain looked tight. You could almost hear the gears grinding as he kept removing his cap to mop his brow. This was a man at work. Martinez, though, was a man at play, looking calm and self-assured even when he was pitching with runners on base. He seemed in complete control, without the slightest doubt that the could throw the next pitch exactly where he wanted it.
That sort of easy self-confidence only comes with experience, the kind of time that Chamberlain hasn't had yet. It might seem strange, but Tuesday's disappointment will probably make him a better pitcher. Even a day of failure makes him one day wiser, one day tougher. As Martinez can tell him, the one thing a young man never learns is how good it can feel to be old.