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The Red Sox are one tough audience. Last Friday, after their slightly built ace, Pedro Martinez, completed a 17-strikeout, one-hit victory at Yankee Stadium—retiring the last 22 New York batters in the 3-1 win—he was greeted with little more than the usual handshakes and high fives. "I guess that's because they're used to seeing it," said Martinez, who fanned 12 of the last 15 Yankees and became the first pitcher to strike out 15 or more batters six times in a season since Nolan Ryan did it in 1974. Chili Davis's second-inning home run, off a 95-mph fastball, saved New York the embarrassment of being on the wrong end of a no-hitter for the first time since 1958.
"It may have been the best performance I've ever seen," said Yankees righthander David Cone, taking into account his own perfect game on July 18 against the lowly Expos. "He had three dominating pitches—an overpowering fastball, a knee-buckling curve and a parachute changeup. I don't think I've ever seen anyone with all three."
Through Sunday, Martinez (21-4) was 17 games over .500; the other 25 pitchers trotted out by Boston were 61-57. But the Red Sox—who came out on top of the Yankees in an 11-10 barn burner on Saturday and completed the sweep on Sunday with a 4-1 victory—had closed to within 3½ games of the world champions in the East and held a threegame lead over Oakland in the wild-card race despite the absence of a power hitter the caliber of Mo Vaughn, who left for the Angels in the off-season. Boston also had been without closer Tom Gordon since June 11, when he tore a ligament in his elbow, and it had gone weeks at a time without shortstop Nomar Garciaparra (strained left hamstring, strained groin) and No. 2 starter Bret Saberhagen (right shoulder injuries, lacerated left foot).
Still, the Red Sox won the season series against the Yankees 8-4, and Boston manager Jimy Williams credits Martinez with setting a high standard for his overachievers. "They see him, and they want to help the team win just like he does," Williams says.
Martinez is on the verge of a greater season than Roger Clemens had in 1986, when the Rocket won the MVP and Cy Young awards and led the Red Sox to the World Series. That year Clemens was 24-4 with a 2.48 ERA and 238 strikeouts in 254 innings. Through Sunday, with 65%⅔ fewer innings, Martinez had 274 strikeouts. His 2.20 ERA was .90 of a run better than that of Cone, the American League runner-up.
"He deserves consideration for both awards," says Cone. "Pedro's got a chance to go down as having one of the great alltime power seasons."
Martinez admitted after last Friday's game that his shoulder was bothering him. "I still feel a little tingly, but it's not anything I haven't felt before," he said. His injury may turn out to be a blessing. He returned to action on Aug. 3, and through Sunday he had won his last four starts, permitting just two runs while striking out 58 in 31 innings.
But when it comes to the post-season, Martinez's injury may still be a lingering concern to tire Red Sox. "I don't think they'll pitch him three times in a seven-game series," says one of Martinez's teammates. "He's too valuable to the future of the club to take that risk."
Nevin Tempered by Success