Old though Dennis may be, the Indians haven't won a title in his lifetime, but with the best record in baseball this season they appear headed toward postseason play for the first time since 1954, the year before he was born. "The reason we signed Dennis last year," says general manager John Hart, "was that if we ever got to the postseason, this was the guy we would trust in a big game."
So trustworthy is Dennis that many people in his native Nicaragua want him to run for president in that country's election next year. He recently finished first in a popularity poll there. El Presidente, as he is known for his statesmanlike mound presence, does not seem eager to turn his nickname into an official title, not when he's pitching like this and making $4.5 million a year.
Likewise, Edgar Martinez, a New York City native, is something of a Pan American sensation, having won batting titles in Canada (with Calgary of the Pacific Coast League in 1988), Puerto Rico (in winter ball in 1989) and the mainland U.S. (the '92 American League crown). Edgar batted only .271 over the '93 and '94 seasons, mostly because of a badly pulled hamstring he suffered in 1993 and a wrist injury that hampered him last year. But his health and his average are robust again; should he sustain his current .361 batting average, it would be the highest mark for a righthanded batter in the American League since Joe DiMaggio led the league by hitting .381 in 1939.
"The only Martinez I keep track of is Edgar," says Tino, who follows Edgar in the Ken Griffey-less Mariner batting order. Tino, too, is thriving despite Junior's absence. Born Constantino Martinez in Tampa, he earned his All-Star invitation this year with 18 home runs (two short of his career high for a season). On five occasions, Edgar and Tino have homered in the same game, an event the Mariners like to call the Two Martinez Launch.
Down the coast in L.A., Ramon is enjoying something of a renaissance. He became a star quickly, winning 20 games in 1990 at age 22. But he pitched a league-high 12 complete games that year, and averaged 115 pitches in his 33 starts. His high pitch total may have taken its toll. Through July 1991 he had a 41-18 career record, but since then he has gone only 42-44, and for a long while it looked as if he had lost the juice off his 96-mph fastball. His brother Pedro began to eclipse him last year, finishing with more strikeouts, fewer walks and a better ERA by more than half a run. Then on June 3 this year Pedro retired 27 straight San Diego Padres—joining Harvey Haddix as the only other pitcher ever to take a perfect game into extra innings—before surrendering a leadoff double in the 10th. Ramon began to think about Pedro and perfection as he set down one Marlin after another last Friday.
"I'm thinking perfect game, then it got six, seven innings," Ramon says. "Then I'm thinking maybe they're showing this game where [the Expos] are playing. I was watching [Pedro in June], and I was excited."
How perfectly impossible it all seemed. Ramon came into the game leading the league in walks and earned runs allowed and had been booed off the Dodger Stadium mound the last time he pitched there, having coughed up 10 runs in 4⅔ innings on July 2. What's more, behind him stood the worst defensive unit in baseball, which included a shortstop who led the majors in errors (Jose Offerman), a centerfielder making his first major league start (Todd Hollandsworth) and a left-fielder who had last played that position three years and four trades earlier (Kelly).
But then Martinez popped his first fastball of the first inning with so much velocity that Dodger manager Tommy Lasorda turned to his pitching coach, Dave Wallace, and said knowingly, "Uh-oh."
"Right then we knew the old Ramon was back," Wallace says.
So sizzling was Ramon's fastball that he did not trifle with any other pitch after the third inning. "I feel like a giant out there," he said after the game. He was within four outs of a perfect game when he missed on a full-count pitch to Marlin outfielder Tommy Gregg. He collected himself, then without further incident wrapped up the no-hitter, the 22nd of the decade—already nine more than were thrown in the '80s. Cooperstown immediately called to secure a signed game ball and cap, just as it had the month before with Pedro.