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Right on

Martinez, Schilling step up as game's most dominant

Posted: Monday August 12, 2002 12:48 PM
Updated: Monday August 12, 2002 10:43 PM

  By the Numbers
  Heroes and Bums
  Rookie Spotlight
  Mad About Vlad
  Series to See
  Peanut Gallery
By John Donovan,

There are two right-handers. They are five years apart. In a pitching career, that can be a lifetime.

They play in different leagues. One is tall and powerful, the other shorter and slighter. One plays for the World Series champs, the other for a team that hasn't won the Series since 1918.

But these two right-handers, they are a lot alike, too. A lot.

They began the season with 132 wins each. They both throw hard, with superb command. They strike out batters by the ton. They are relentless.

Mainly, they win.

Pedro Martinez and Curt Schilling have become the dominant right-handed starters in baseball, two pitcher's pitchers who are in peak form as the season enters its final six weeks. Schilling, in a long career that has taken him from Baltimore to Houston to Philadelphia and, now, to Arizona, is on his way to his second straight 20-win season.

Martinez, who went from Los Angeles to Montreal to Boston, will probably make it to 20 wins, too. And he may never have been better. He hasn't given up a run in his past 31 innings.

Baseball is full of all sorts of pitchers of the moment, guys who can get hot for a week or a month or a half-season. And then there are guys like Martinez and Schilling. They've been on bad teams and good ones. They've fought through injuries. And here they are, as good -- or pretty close -- as they've ever been.

This season, Schilling is 19-4 with a 2.76 ERA for the Diamondbacks. He's on pace for maybe 26 wins. He's also in line to win his first Cy Young Award in his 15 years in the bigs, though teammate Randy Johnson, a lefty, may have something to say about that. These will be his first back-to-back 20-win seasons (he was 22-6 in 2001) in his career, and he is now 35.

Martinez is just 30. But he's fought with injuries this season that have forced him, by some observation, to ratchet down his style of pitching. Still, he is 16-2 with a 2.14 ERA for the Red Sox. He hasn't allowed a run in his last four starts. He hasn't lost a game in almost two months. Martinez could be heading for a Cy Young, too. It would be his fourth. Teammate Derek Lowe (16-4, a league-leading 2.09 ERA) is right there with him, though, and there are other challengers.

There are a bunch of other good, well-established right-handers in baseball. The Yankees' Roger Clemens, who just turned 40, has fought injuries this year but still can throw with the best when healthy. The same is true of the Dodgers' Kevin Brown, 37, and the Braves' Greg Maddux, 36. The Yankees' Mike Mussina, just 33, is 178-98 in his career, but he's struggling this season with an ERA near 5.00.

There are a lot of good righties in baseball. But none of them are better -- not right now, anyway -- than Schilling and Martinez.

A date with a strike
"All right, take it easy everybody, take it eassssy! You keep dragging your feet and we'll waste the season! We will! We're not kidding around! Now, put down that luxury tax proposal. That's right, kick it away. You, in the blue pinstripes! Sit down, hands on the table. That's good. Grab that legal pad. Undo the tie. Gooood. Now let's do a little talking, and let's do it NOW!"
The 600 club
At this rate (clickety, click, click), figuring a walk every other time up, maybe more if the Giants are playing someone they're fighting for a postseason spot (tap, tappity, tap), figuring a homer any time he wants, we see Barry Bonds hammering No. 700 somewhere around (tap) next Sept. 9. We may be a little off on this one.
Wild cards
Used to be, at this time of the year, all we talked about was the upcoming pennant races. It's all we could talk about. But now, with two of the divisions settled and another (the National League West) looking real close to closing out, the wild card has become just as important. Who'll be the lucky runner-up to make the postseason? Man, that just doesn't have the same feel, does it?

  5   Pitchers in the Cubs organization who have had Tommy John surgery this season. Jon Lieber is the latest.
  7   Teams who have won their division by 20 games since division play began. The record is held by the Indians, who won by 30 games in '95.
  710   At-bats needed between home runs No. 500 and 600 for Barry Bonds, the fastest trip ever. (Babe Ruth had held the record, at 1,121 at-bats.)

More in By the Numbers

Hero: Sammy Sosa, Cubs
A record 14 RBIs over two days in Denver -- that's a good few weeks for most guys -- capped a week to remember. He had at least two hits in every Cubs game, batted 14-for-25 (.560) with six homers and 19 RBIs and scored 11 runs. He should have his own plane.
Bum: Rondell White, Yankees
He didn't even play in two games last week, and here's why: In the four games the Yanks' left fielder did play in, he was hitless in 17 at-bats. He didn't draw a walk. He struck out five times. He didn't score a run.
Hero: Adrian Beltre, Dodgers
L.A.'s third baseman had 12 hits on the week (and a .522 average), popped two homers, drove in six runs and scored 10 more to push his average for the month over .400.
Bum: Terrence Long, A's
If Long ever starts hitting -- he's coming off a .111 week (3-for-27) in which he scored only one run -- the A's can write their ticket to the postseason. Oakland's center fielder is hitting .242 on the season.

Rodrigo Lopez, SP, Orioles
A lot of rooks had a better week than Lopez, who was a mediocre 1-1 with a 4.50 ERA. But, you know, his July slipped by without many outside of Baltimore noticing, so a spotlight's the least we can do. In July, the 26-year-old right-hander won all six of his starts and sported a 2.57 ERA. On the year, he's 13-4 with a 3.07 ERA in 20 starts. If the O's had a couple more like him, they'd only be 10 games out or so.

      Our tribute to the banter of baseball
"I like Bud Selig personally, and I think he's a much more capable man than people give him credit for. But if you compared it to politics, Bud is a back-bencher. He's a congressman who can help you put together a coalition, but he shouldn't be your party's standard bearer."

-- Broadcaster Bob Costas, on Larry King Weekend.

If Vladimir Guerrero didn't do what he does way up there in Montreal, you could make a good case for him as the National League's MVP. Last week, he hit .478 (11-for-23), slammed four home runs, drove in six and scored seven runs. On the season, he's up to .329 with 32 homers and 80 RBIs. Worth the price of admission in any ballpark -- even Olympic.

Tuesday-Thursday, Safeco Field, Seattle
Nothing is ever easy for the Red Sox. They're in a battle in the East, their wild-card lead has evaporated, that stupid curse thing hangs over them like a well, like a curse, for crying out loud. And now this. Boston begins its week in Seattle against the M's, who lead the West. The two teams have split six games this season, with Pedro Martinez winning his two starts (with a 1.13 ERA) despite the exploits of Ichiro Suzuki (.524 with six steals in six games). This is a critical stretch for Boston. After Seattle, the Red Sox travel to Minnesota to meet the Twins, who lead the Central. Next week, after a breather against Texas, wild-card foe Anaheim comes to Boston before the Yankees come into Fenway for two. It's never easy. Of course, they wouldn't be the Red Sox if things were easy.

Oh, the love, all the love. We were overwhelmed by your feelings for the game of baseball, despite all its problems.

Before we get all mushy, though, here's this week's topic: If the season were to end today -- and let's hope this is a hypothetical -- which team do you think is best poised to make a strong run in the postseason? The Yankees with their homers and their starters? The Schilling-Johnson thing? The Braves and their bullpen? Seattle?

Click here to tell us what you think. Give us some reasons. And please, once again, include your name and hometown.

Now to your thoughts on why you still love baseball so much

I guess it is just plain old denial. I refuse to even entertain the thought of a strike at this point. If we can't watch the Mariners de-throne the Yanks in October and the Braves pummel the D-backs, then there is absolutely no value in the games played today and tomorrow. It's like the players are finally willing to admit money is more valuable then what happens in October. Well I won't.
-- Mark Bennett, Portland, Ore.

Two reasons, really. First, no matter how bad things get off the field, there are always a couple of teams that simply play the game beautifully. The Minnesota Twins and the Arizona Diamondbacks this year are just plain fun to watch. Good baseball is good baseball, no matter how evil the owners or how avaricious the players' union. Second, "he's not my" Bud Selig and some of the owners make it very fun to follow the game for the sake of rooting against them. Few items in the morning paper offer as much joy as the latest news of Selig being caught in a lie or yet again failing in his ceaseless plot to destroy the game.
-- Scott Rogers, Alexandria, Va.

I have grown up with baseball. Some of the fondest memories of my Dad involve baseball, shagging pop-ups and fielding grounders late into the summer night, my first Little League no-hitter (yes I was pitching, that wasn't my batting stat), Phillies games, Arizona Fall League games and Game 7 at B.O.B. just prior to his passing last November. Baseball helps keep the memories of Dad alive. Carpe Diem MLB, please don't blow this.
-- Marc J., Phoenix

For love of the game. Sheer, raw, unadulterated love of the game. Is life without baseball really a life worth living?
-- Andrew Mizener, Sidney, Ohio

What keeps me coming back to baseball? Guys like Craig Biggio, Jeff Bagwell, Vladimir Guerrero, Mark Grace and other class acts. Have you noticed that baseball players don't get into the same kind of trouble with violence as pro basketball and football players do? When was the last time you saw a MLB player in a full-length fur coat? When was the last time a MLB player was arrested for illegal handgun possession or was anywhere near a night club shooting? Also what else is there to watch? The WNBA with its oh, so exciting set shots and layups? NASCAR good ol' boys roaring around and around and around a track?
-- Mark R. Pachankis, Shreveport, La.

I love the game because I can never remember not loving it. My dad played with me and my brothers from the time I was 3. I coached all of my three sons. It requires athleticism, strength, speed, accuracy, but you can still be a good player without 1 or 2 of them (Mickey Hatcher) and it's not about beating on somebody else physically. The strategy is chess-like in its permutations. And it is still basically played as it was over 100 years ago. Unlike football, hockey, and many other sports, playing .600 is really good. The nuances to the game allow it to be more competitive based on chance than others. I coached 1 seven inning game where 18 of the 21 outs were line drives caught. That was over 12 years ago, and I still think that was a great game. God, if they could only get rid of the money influence in the professional game. I love watching the defense and baserunning more than the pitching and hitting. It is a joy to have watched players like Willie Mays, McGwire, Mantle and the like who played with such obvious passion and love that it was a pleasure to watch them just for the enthusiasm. I should write a book about the game. I do love it more than anything but my family.
-- Richard Arnold, Bloomington, Minn.

It may just be the fact that I'm an Angles fan. If we don't make the post season this year, we won't ever. P.S. All the fans in Boston and Chicago should stop complaining. While they're condemned to never win the World Series, us baseball fans in Orange County will never get the chance.
-- Jacob Leven, Huntington Beach, Calif.

I keep coming back, for now, for the same reasons baseball has endured in spite of itself. Far from perfect? Sure. But so is this convoluted conglomeration of nationalities we call the U.S.A. But is it still the best thing going? Absolutely. In the midst of whining millionaires (owners or players -- take your pick), and a "competitive" game played to tie under a brand-new leaky roof, is still the beauty of The Game. For sure, baseball throughout history has had its gems and its warts. The ne'er say die Cubs fans and the '19 Sox. Pete Rose and Pete Rose. Fenway Park and, well, every neon-lit "park." But, in all these times and in all these places, is where baseball has lived. And where it has been cherished, regardless. Baseball's flaws may mirror humanity's flaws, but I remain hopeful we've grown up just enough to learn from past mistakes. Because we HAVE learned (ask Jackie Robinson). I love this game, its history, its place in our lives, and the many noble individuals (Bud Selig notwithstanding) who've been, and continue to be, a part of it. But would I come back after a strike? This time, no. After all, sometimes it can hurt too much to stay in love. So, fellas (you know who you are), I hope that when you get back to the table, you work together to do what's best -- for The Game.
-- Tony DeCastro, Section 322, Row 7, Bank One Ballpark, Phoenix

Baseball is America's past and its future, it will be around forever. Everything from cheap nosebleed seats to the peanut vendor including the belligerent fool screaming who sits next to you. Baseball is the greatest sport ever.
-- Clayton Dujenski, Huntington Beach, Calif.

I get teary eyed at the first game of the season -- at last, it's back, and that means it's Spring at last in Minnesota! I don't want to think of Seligs, Fehrs, Pohlads, Steinbrenners or new stadiums. I just enjoy watching skill, strategy, energy and guts -- and this year my Twins have it all. Even if they had a bad year, I'd still be a fan. Baseball is still a comfort, a link to our past that's still exciting and relevant. God help me if they don't find some way to fix it.
-- Paula Kwakenat, Bloomington, Minn.

Why do I love baseball? The Twins. With every bit of controversy surrounding the game of baseball today, I can look at these young kids and know those controversies have nothing to do with them or what they do on the field. Why would these kids want to strike? Name a Twins player you think is doing steroids. You can't. "Powerball" is not their game. Plus, after being threatened with contraction they're throwing it in Bud Selig's face. Just because the Brewers can't compete that doesn't mean all small market teams can't compete. Save the Twins! Contract Bud Selig!
-- Darren Slack, Minneapolis, Minn.

It's the game. Major League Baseball is a tiny fraction of all the baseball that's played here and around the world. I watch professional ball with my 13-year-old pitcher/shortstop son to see the best of what's out there, but we also see minor league, college and youth baseball. None of this has anything to do with the money and politics of professional sports, and the arrogance and pigheadedness of the owners and players at the MLB level has nothing to do with the game itself.
-- Richard Weiner, Cleveland, Ohio

Why do I continue to watch the game of baseball? I am one of those people who will stop and gawk at a train wreck; and we have a multi-car pile-up right here in Milwaukee with the hapless Brewers on pace to lose 100 games! Also, watching the Cubs lose every year has become down right surreal.
-- T.J.D., Milwaukee

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