With Phils' season on the line, Pedro cherishes the moment
Unlike his teammates, Pedro welcomes the overwhelming media presence
As his Hall of Fame career winds down, Pedro looks at Game 6 as a "blessing"
He knows this may be the moment to which his career has always been building
The majority of the Philadelphia Phillies' players appear to have come to regard the dozens upon dozens of media members who fill their clubhouse after every World Series game in the same way that a family of picnickers, who had looked forward to an idyllic al fresco autumn meal, might regard a swarm of ants. The strategies that the Phillies -- who seem genuinely surprised that the media's glare is so much more intense during their series against the Yankees than it was during last year's matchup with the Rays -- have utilized to deal with the horde are varied.
There is escape, best exhibited by struggling slugger Ryan Howard, who had slapped his clothes on his back and was probably halfway home by the time the media was permitted to enter the clubhouse after Game 4's loss. There is avoidance: Many of the Phillies like to linger in the players-only rooms of the clubhouse, occasionally peeking out to see if the coast is clear, which it never is. And there is the fine art of saying something without really saying anything, practiced by, among others, Chase Utley, a man who would prefer never to speak publicly, but who realizes that his record-tying five-homer World Series means that he must. "Let's get this out of the way," he whispered to a team staff member the other day, before wheeling around to face the camera lights and the blinking recorders for a couple of minutes.
To be fair, most human beings would not be inclined to respond to questions -- many of them repetitive, many of them inane -- posed by a throbbing crush of mostly strangers immediately after undergoing an experience as intense as is a World Series game. Most of the Phillies have, eventually, conveyed to the public their thoughts on what just happened, and why it happened, and what might happen next. Closer Brad Lidge, for example, insightfully answered every question that was asked of him, most of which had to do with his own shortcomings, after he blew Game 4. But only one of them, he who has been a member of the club for less than three months, has seemed to have not only tolerated the process, but to have delighted in it.
"I don't know losing 'til I lost!" Pedro Martinez said as he smiled broadly in front of his locker late Sunday night, as nearly all of his teammates were huddling in those inaccessible back rooms, coming to terms with the fact that their ninth-inning Game 4 collapse had given the Yankees a 3-1 series lead that seemed all but insurmountable. "Just another battle we have to overcome, another hill we have to climb. Game 6 is my spot. I don't know if it's going to happen, but it's my spot."
It wasn't officially his spot yet, as manager Charlie Manuel only revealed that Martinez, 11 days past his 38th birthday, would start Wednesday night's must-win Game 6 after the Phillies had held on for an 8-6 victory in Game 5. Even as Manuel was making his announcement in the press conference room at Citizens Bank Park, the next episode of the Pedro Show was taping, live, in the clubhouse. On that night, Martinez, his curls wet from the shower and a purple towel wrapped around his waist, claimed that he wouldn't be speaking. "Sorry!" he trilled to reporters and cameramen, some of whom had hurdled chairs to get close to him. "Sorry, no talking. Earn your job. Earn your duties. Be creative!" Still, his playfulness, his bearing, his jocular tone, told us more than might hours of tape produced by many of his teammates. "Now you waiting, just like with Manny," he said, referring to his former Red Sox teammate Manny Ramirez. "Remember Manny?" He left, but moments later popped his head back through the swinging doors at the back of the clubhouse. "Wait for me, and I'll talk to you tomorrow," he promised.
Talk, he did. Early Tuesday evening at Yankee Stadium, Martinez, who has at times over the course of his 18-year career been somewhat inscrutable, conducted yet another press conference -- his third of the World Series -- in which he turned what is usually one of the drearier forms of human interaction into a must-see event. He was open, he was funny, he was profound, he was silly. He spoke like a man who has had a career filled with moments similar to this that he sometimes might have taken for granted, and who, faced with the knowledge that his life might not feature many -- if any -- more of them, is determined not to let any part of this one, league-mandated interview sessions included, slip by him.
"I look at this situation as a blessing," he said of his chance to pitch once more on his sport's biggest of stages, in a World Series game at Yankee Stadium with his club's hopes pinned on him. "I mean, what else would I want? I'm doing something that not everybody gets to do. If you consider the fact that I was -- two months back, I was sitting at home not doing anything, none of you were thinking of me whatsoever, none of you were asking me questions, and today I am here, probably pitching one of the biggest games ever in the World Series, two great teams with a whole bunch of legendary players ... I don't have enough words to describe how excited I am about being here. This is just a great gift to me. This is a blessing."
More than once, his thoughts turned to the idea of his legacy, of which he knows he is currently in the final stage of constructing. "When you die, people tend to actually give you props about the good things," he said. "But that's after you die. So I'm hoping to get it before I die. I don't want to die and then hear everybody say, 'Oh, there goes one of the best players ever.' If you're going to give me props, just give them to me right now." Later, he took the thought even further. "I hope I can be remembered more as a human being [who would] take his clothes off to probably give it to a man down the street. I don't mind doing that any time ... That's very different. That's a different level."
He talked about pitching, too, and it was clear that the fact that he has had something of a spotty playoff history against the Yankees -- after his Game 2 loss, he has a career postseason ERA of 4.69 (well more than a run and a half higher than his overall regular season mark of 2.93) in seven appearances against them -- would have no place in his mind on Wednesday night, nor would the fact that he no longer possesses the virtually unhittable stuff of his youth. Everything, he said, is now "created in the middle of the moment. What you see is a combination of experience and instinct. It's just instinct, surviving. Everybody that grows up in the Dominican and didn't have a rich life, it's a survival. That's what we call it in the Dominican: survival. And in baseball I am a survivor. I'm someone that wasn't meant to be, and here I am on one big stage. I really thank God for the blessings of being here, because I was supposed to just survive and that's it. And here you are, guys; I have a lot of you paying attention to me right now. That's a great joy."
He alluded, in fact, a number of times to that final idea -- that someday soon, few people will care about anything that Pedro Martinez has to say. One day, indeed, some of his more callow teammates might think wistfully back to the time when dozens of strangers waited around, sometimes for an hour or more, hoping only to capture a few of their words, and to transmit them to the masses. That is not to suggest that the Phillies' general antipathy to the media tells us much of anything about how they will play against the Yankees in Game 6, nor to criticize them for it. It's just how some people -- professional baseball players included -- are, and will always be. The slick-haired, tight-jawed Utley might well continue his historic home run binge against Yankees starter Andy Pettitte. Howard might break out of his slump, and then quickly depart from the Stadium -- although, if he does get a couple of hits, he'll probably be more inclined say a few words.
But Martinez, as his comportment throughout this series has shown us, is in a different place than any of his teammates. His induction into the Hall of Fame is already assured, but he knows that even when he travels to Cooperstown five years after his retirement to be feted for a weekend, things just won't be the same as they are now, and never will be again. He is not raging against the dying of the light. He is laughing at it. He is seizing it. He is committing every bit of it to memory.
He knows that this -- this Game 6 start, with his team's season in the balance -- might be the moment to which his career has always been building. He no longer has the ability to throw a baseball 97 miles per hour, but he now possesses so many other qualities that make him the ideal man to lead the Phillies' quest to stave off, for one more day, what might be the inevitable. He is not only fighting for the survival of the 2009 Phillies' season, but for his own life as a baseball superstar -- the life he has known since his early 20s -- and for his legacy as such. After Monday's Game 5, Manuel put it best, as he so often does.
"Pedro," Manuel said, "is ready."
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