There have been, what, dozens of them by now? Young, up-and-coming Expos who, because of Montreal's financial straits, were traded or otherwise let go and went on to become stars elsewhere. John Wetteland and Delino DeShields. Marquis Grissom and Moises Alou. Ken Hill and Larry Walker. Worse, there's that guy in Boston, the one with the indomitable circle change, ice-melting fastball and three Cy Young Awards. Before the Expos relocate or disappear, will they have the decency to apologize to their 14 remaining fans for trading Pedro Martinez to the Red Sox?
The deal haunts Montreal in more ways than one. Over the same four seasons that Martinez ran up a 67-20 record in Boston, righthanded starter Carl Pavano, the player the Expos demanded from the Red Sox, has had one bad moment after another. As a rookie in 1998 he sat out the first seven weeks of the season with shoulder tendinitis. In '99 he made 18 starts before landing on the DL again, with elbow tendinitis. In 2000 he was 8-4 with a 3.06 ERA when tendinitis in his triceps cut short his season. Last year he missed all but eight starts while recovering from elbow surgery to remove bone chips. "I look at it this way," says Montreal catcher Michael Barrett. "If Carl is hurt, we're hurt. If he remains healthy, we have a shot."
Barrett seems to mean a shot at the National League East tide, which, frankly, isn't going to happen. The four other teams in the East have far more talent than the Expos. However, if Pavano can make 30 or so starts, he and fellow righthanders Javier Vazquez and Tony Armas Jr. (the player to be named later in the Martinez-Pavano swap) could meld into a formidable starting trio. None of the three is older than 26. "These guys haven't gotten much airtime, so they're unknown to the world," says Dick Pole, Montreal's new pitching coach. "But if you're in my position, you're thrilled. These are three young men with the potential to be terrific major league pitchers."
For years Pavano has heard such praise. After all he has been through, it's starting to ring hollow. When he was taken by Boston in the 13th round of the 1994 amateur draft, it was a heartwarming story of a local kid—Pavano grew up in Southing-ton, Conn.—staying home to pitch for the good of Sox. Pavano cruised through the minor leagues with such ease and poise that the Expos believed the trade had netted them their ace for the next decade.
When at his best, Pavano can eat up hitters with a mix of three above-average pitches: a mid-90s fastball that he locates with NASA-like precision, a slider that handcuffs righthanded batters and a deceptive change-up. "He's one of the best at establishing both sides of the plate," says Barrett.
Like Pavano, Vazquez, who last year struck out 208 batters and walked only 44, has above-average stuff and a veteran's composure. Also like Pavano, Vazquez has struggled at times. As a rookie in 1998 he went 5-15 with a 6.06 ERA. "I learned a great deal from that," says Vazquez, who has since gotten much better command of his pitches, as his 16-11 record showed. "I was hit hard, but it was a good education. Sometimes you just have to learn from being out there."
Pavano knows that all too well.
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