Older, wiser Pedro grabs World Series spotlight -- even in defeat
Pedro Martinez had only pitched twice in 29 days entering Game 2
Martinez stifled the Yanks, displaying old flashes of his bound-for-Cooperstown self
At 38, this might've been Pedro's final major league appearance
NEW YORK -- As he walked off the mound at Yankee Stadium on Thursday night, what must Pedro Martinez have been thinking? Here he was, 38 years old, his glorious career winding to an uncertain end, on the losing side of what would become a 3-1 final and could possibly be the last game he will ever pitch, and yet he could still manage a smile. Maybe it was for himself and the vintage performance he had just delivered on the biggest stage in baseball. Maybe it was for his late father, whom he recognized with his familiar gesture by pointing to the sky.
And maybe it was just for the spectacle of it all.
When he got near the dugout, he saw a fan was cursing him at with a daughter in one arm and a cup of beer in his other hand "saying all kinds of nasty stuff," said Martinez. "I just told him 'Your daughter is right beside you. It's a little girl. It's a shame you're saying all these things.' I had to stop and tell him because I'm a father myself and God, how can you be so dumb to do those kind of things in front of your child? What kind of example are you setting?"
The example Martinez set in Game 2 was a far more pleasant one. It wasn't the best pitching performance we've seen this postseason -- that honor surely belongs to his teammate Cliff Lee, who dazzled just the night before -- but it was the most captivating. With his Game 1 masterpiece, Lee gave the World Series a performance that hadn't been seen in years, but in Game 2 we were reminded anew that Pedro is a pitcher we haven't seen in years and maybe never will again. Who else his age could sit out until late July after recovering from a serious arm injury, make only nine starts all season, and yet still manage to stifle not only the game's most dangerous offense in the most homer-happy ballpark in the majors -- and with a previously undisclosed cold -- but to do all but silence their notoriously noisy crowd? And who else could make us believe we were watching his younger self, all while he continued to offer a side of himself that has surely changed people's opinions of who he is as a person -- as surely as his pitching this month has changed opinions about who he is as a pitcher.
So few players have combined the ability to amaze and entertain in equal measure for as long as Pedro has. His phenomenal pitching has always been admired, but mostly, we were never quite sure what to make of Pedro himself. Was he for real? Now we know. His talent may have eroded, but as the dominant pitcher he was recedes further into the past, he is replaced by an honest and open former superstar who is comfortable with who he is and what he has become, and who manages to make even an event as big as the World Series feel somehow larger. Still, his transformation has not changed this central fact about him: Pedro Martinez is still a heck of a pitcher.
It should have been clear the moment he struck out Derek Jeter to start the bottom of the first inning, and not so much because he reached back into another decade and another version of himself to sling a fastball past the Yankee captain. During that at-bat, the fans had begun their most predictable chant of the night: Who's your Daddy?, a reference to Martinez's famous quote from Sept. of 2004 in which he described his recent struggles at the hands of New York by saying, "I just tip my hat and call the Yankees my daddy."
This time, it was clear that Martinez was the man in charge. He struck out Jeter and the chant, which had been out of sync anyway, subsided. The Yankee Stadium organist played a tune that could encourage the chant again, but it too died down as Martinez struck out Johnny Damon. It wasn't heard the rest of the night.
Perhaps it was out of respect. New York fans have always relished great athletes from rival teams who know how to put on a show, such as Reggie Miller, and in Martinez they have someone who is similarly talented and similarly theatrical. The fans may have treated him as a villain at times, but Martinez says, "I know they really want to root for me. It's just that I don't play for the Yankees, that's all. I've always been a good competitor and they love that. I'm a New Yorker, as well. If I was on the Yankees, I'd probably be a king over here."
Even on the Phillies, he's been treated something like royalty befitting his status as a three-time Cy Young winner and surefire future Hall of Famer. He has melded seamlessly into their clubhouse, offering pitching tips to the younger members of the staff -- "Pedro's given me some pretty good adjustments," said Game 3 starter Cole Hamels -- and a sense of comic relief in a clubhouse that, for all its jocularity, can sometimes seem corporate to the outside world.
All of this very nearly never happened. The Phillies had scouted Martinez at the World Baseball Classic, but at the time, had no obvious need for more starting pitchers. General manager Ruben Amaro Jr. said before Game 2 the need for Pedro "wasn't much of an issue." That soon changed. Hamels struggled to regain the form of his dominant postseason in '08 and Joe Blanton, Brett Myers and Jamie Moyer all battled injury, ineffectiveness or both. Soon Charley Kerfeld, the special assistant to the GM who had watched Martinez pitch in the WBC, was taking another look. "One day, we were sitting around [assistant GM] Scott Proefrock's office and somebody said, 'Is Pedro still out there?' recalled Amaro. "That was right before we started our real discussions."
Martinez signed in July and after a handful of minor league starts made his debut on Aug. 12. He went 5-1 with a 3.63 ERA and then pitched brilliantly in Game 2 of the NLCS against the Dodgers, tossing seven shutout innings. Leading up to Game 2 of the World Series, Martinez wasn't acting like himself. He revealed after the game that he had been fighting a cold, complete with coughing, sore throat and chest pain, that had affected his eating and sleeping over the past couple days. "Maybe that's why he hasn't been so happy," said Phillies shortstop Jimmy Rollins. "I've been trying to make him laugh and he was just like, 'Hmmm.' He had [the Yankees] bats sick for a while tonight, though."
Mixing a surprisingly lively fastball with an array of curveballs and a changeup that Lee called "nasty" in only his second start in the past 29 days, Martinez carried a 1-0 lead into the fourth inning when Mark Teixeira lined a 1-0 fastball out of the ballpark to tie the game. Two innings later, Hideki Matsui untied it with another home run. Martinez had started the inning by striking out both Teixeira and Rodriguez, who could only muster feeble defensive swings at a nearly identical, and identically filthy, breaking balls. When Martinez got ahead 1-2 on Matsui, he went back to that curveball. It wasn't a terrible pitch, but it stayed up just enough for Matsui to golf it into the seats in right. Afterward, Martinez second-guessed his pitch selection, but said, "I was just into a groove pitching and throwing pitches, and just flip a curveball up there, kind of paid for it."
He left after allowing a pair of singles to start of the seventh inning, having thrown 107 pitches, his third-highest total of the season. He would be stuck with the loss, despite striking out eight and allowing just six hits in six-plus innings, but that was only thing wrong for him on a night that otherwise went so right. "Regardless of what happened, the fact that I'm the loser today for the game, I'm extremely proud and happy being able to participate," he said. "I made the right decision by coming back."
Hamels said after the game that even though the Phillies were in the World Series a year ago, this time it "actually feels like a World Series." That is due to the cities involved, the wondrous traditions of the two teams and rosters stacked with stars of the past, present and future.
Among that constellation of stars, none can match Martinez for his winning mixture of skill, personality and longevity. Which is why when he left the mound, we may not know exactly what he was thinking. But everyone who watched him exit should all have been thinking the same thing: No matter how, or when it ends, this pitcher, this performance, and this Series, should have all of us smiling.
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