SI Vault
Ace in a Hole
Stephen Cannella
April 08, 2002
As the Red Sox faithful watched expectantly, star Pedro Martinez delivered a horrid Opening Day performance, raising new worries all over New England
Decrease font Decrease font
Enlarge font Enlarge font
April 08, 2002

Ace In A Hole

As the Red Sox faithful watched expectantly, star Pedro Martinez delivered a horrid Opening Day performance, raising new worries all over New England

View CoverRead All Articles






K'S/9 INN.



April 4. 2000-June 26, 2001









Aug. 26.2001-April 1, 2002









Even before he arrived at the Fenway Park mound to face the Toronto Blue Jays on Monday afternoon, righthander Pedro Martinez showed that his flair for the dramatic, as much a part of his Hall of Fame-caliber makeup as his lethal changeup, had survived the winter intact. Martinez, the Boston Red Sox' ace and spiritual lifeblood, completed his warmup in the rightfield bullpen as his teammates assembled along the first base line for Opening Day introductions. When his name was announced, he was already ambling across the right-field expanse toward the dugout with a matador's bearing. As he walked, Martinez slid his pitching arm into his warmup jacket and raised it in the air to straighten the sleeve, as if he were reassuring the Fenway faithful that, yes, his fragile right shoulder was fully functional.

It was the first Martinez moment of 2002, and the 33,520 in attendance predictably went berserk. It was also the last Martinez moment of the day. Two hours later Red Sox Nation had a discouraging status report on its hero: With Toronto ahead 8-6, Blue Jays on first and second and no one out in the top of the fourth, Martinez trudged, shoulders slumped, to the dugout. This time, instead of a jacket, he carried with him one of the worst pitching lines of his career: 3 IP, 9 H, 8 R, 7 ER, 2 BB, 4 SO. (The seven earned runs tied his alltime high.) Boston ended up losing 12-11, but the defeat was far less foreboding than Martinez's performance.

There was much to pique Red Sox fans' interest on Monday—new owners ( John Henry, Larry Lucchino and Tom Werner), a new manager ( Grady Little), a new lead-off hitter (centerfielder Johnny Damon)—but the question on the Hub's mind was, What's up with Pedro's shouldah? If hope sprang eternal for all 30 teams in their season openers, no other club had as great an opportunity to handicap its pennant prospects in its first game as Boston did. "Obviously," says righthander Derek Lowe, "we need Pedro to win to have a chance."

There are other factors, of course, as Monday's game proved. The Red Sox offense, energized by Damon at the top of the lineup and shortstop Nomar Garcia-parra's recovery from a wrist injury that debilitated him all last season, was intimidating. By rallying from a 7-1 deficit to take an 11-8 lead, the hitters spared Martinez the loss. New first baseman Tony Clark had three hits, including a three-run homer. Catcher Jason Varitek, who missed most of 2001 with a broken elbow, went 3 for 3 with a home run.

Martinez, a three-time Cy Young Award winner, sets the tone for Boston, however, and while his entrance may have had the feel of a heavyweight champ ascending to the ring, his bravado was tinged with hope rather than confidence. Beginning last June 27, he was on the disabled list for all but two weeks of the rest of the season with a partially torn rotator cuff, the first serious injury of his major league career. After a spring training in which he didn't have command of his devastating arsenal of pitches, Martinez, 30, finds himself at a career crossroads. As Varitek says, "This is a different world for him right now."

"I would say, Be patient with the way I'm coming along," Martinez said near the conclusion of spring training. "I was in a very difficult situation last year, and I don't want to go through that again."

Martinez made 18 starts in 2001 and won only seven games, both career lows since he became a full-time starter. He spent the winter at his home in the Dominican Republic and at the Red Sox complex in Fort Myers, Fla., strengthening his shoulder, adding 10 pounds of muscle to his 5'11", now 190-pound frame and no doubt ruminating on the fact that a torn rotator cuff halted the career of his older brother, Ramon.

Martinez's spring training outings were scrutinized like other pitchers' regular-season starts. He showed flashes of his old self but the overall results were dismal: a 6.62 ERA and 22 hits allowed in 17? innings. While insisting that he was pain-free, Martinez admitted that he had difficulty locating his pitches, getting a feel for his breaking stuff and adjusting his mechanics to his new bulk.

The gunslinger who last year grew so tired of hearing talk of the Curse of the Bambino that he threatened to "drill him in the ass" was feeling his way like a rookie. "Pedro's been through something in the last six months that he's never been through before," says Little, "and there's still some doubt in his mind about whether it will hurt when he pitches."

After Monday's outing Martinez declared that his shoulder didn't hurt, and the velocity of his fastball—low-to mid-90s—appeared to bear him out. "I'm happy with the way I felt," he said. "I feel healthy. I just gave it up today, no excuses. I'm not used to being wild at this stage of the season."

Continue Story
1 2