The celebrity endorsements pour in for Montreal Expos righthander Pedro Martinez. San Diego Padres hit master Tony Gywnn says Martinez has "the Cy Young kit." St. Louis Cardinals slugger Mark McGwire calls Martinez's stuff the best he has ever faced. Philadelphia Phillies manager Terry Francona notes that his players weren't sprinting to check the lineup card before his team faced Martinez last Thursday. But the most notable endorsement comes from Atlanta Braves pitching coach Leo Mazzone, who says that if he could set loyalty aside, he'd pick Martinez as the 1997 National League Cy Young Award winner.
Mazzone, whose pitchers have made the award their personal property in the 1990s, has become an authority on the Cy Young (Tom Glavine won it in '91; Greg Maddux won it the next lour years, including from '93 through '95 with the Braves; and John Smoltz earned it last year). This season two Atlanta starters, Maddux (18-4, 2.31 ERA at week's end) and Denny Neagle (20-3, 2.62), are prime candidates for the National League honor along with Martinez, the Houston Astros' Darryl Kile (17-6, 2.42) and the San Francisco Giants' Shawn Estes (18-4, 3.07). In the American League the Toronto Blue Jays' Roger Clemens, who was 21-5 with a 1.85 ERA, looks like the sure winner, but the 26-year-old Martinez is the thinking man's choice in the National League.
If Martinez, who was 16-7 with a 1.78 ERA, can get to 20 wins—he has four or five starts remaining—he should be a lock. But even if Martinez reaches 19, or perhaps even 18, his other drop-dead statistics would make him a worthy winner: Through Sunday he led the majors in ERA and complete games (12), ranked second in strikeouts with 266 in 212⅓ innings, was tied for second with four shutouts, had pitched through seven innings in 22 of his 27 starts and had yielded the lowest opponents' batting average, .173. His ERA was 0.53 better than Maddux's and almost a run better than Neagle's. Martinez had twice the number of complete games and 82 more strikeouts than Kile had. But Martinez's most glorious statistic was an ERA that was 2.43 better than the league average, putting him on pace to have the fourth widest differential in history.
Aside from his victory total, the best argument against Martinez's winning the Cy Young is that he has pitched in a vacuum—in this case, Montreal, a nonfactor in the standings for more than a month. The other candidates are pitching in the heat of pennant races.
"Pedro has more command of Pedro this year," Expos manager Felipe Alou says. "When things go wrong now, he doesn't look up at the roof for answers. He's got the answers in Pedro—in his arm, in his legs, in his head, in his experience."
Late last season Montreal first base coach Luis Pujols told Martinez that he was his own worst enemy. The pitcher took the message to heart and decided to keep a lid on his simmering emotions. "I was always angry at myself," he says. "I was trying to blow fastballs by everybody. Be a power guy. I'd miss on the inside part of the plate, hit people, get warned [by umpires], get mad. It had to stop."
This season he gained better control of his heater, which he throws in the mid-90s, and that made his changeup more effective until a sprained ligament in his right thumb started bothering him in early August, making both pitches less effective. Last week a Montreal hand specialist recommended that the thumb be immobilized for six weeks, which would have ended the pitcher's season. Martinez declined.
He pitches on in hope of becoming the first native of the Dominican Republic to win the Cy Young, an honor that escaped Juan Marichal—now that nation's minister of sports (page 8). "If I win the award, I'll have Marichal take it back home," Martinez says. "It will be the greatest gift, not for me but for my country."