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"All the time I would pray to the Virgin of Auxilia Dora, who is the saint of my city," Martinez told The New York Times in 1981. "Later I heard how just before Somoza was going to leave the country, he gave orders to bomb Granada. But the pilot was from Granada, and he still had family there, so he dumped all his bombs in the lake, and he flew to safety. Everybody in my city calls this a miracle, and I agree, because it meant my mother and my family were safe."
After the Sandinistas seized power, Martinez returned home less often and cut his visits shorter. "When I went down there I could feel the tension," he says. "You saw people standing around, but they wouldn't talk because everyone was nervous all the time." From 1982 to '87 Martinez didn't return to Nicaragua at all. But there was no way he could completely disengage himself from the events in his homeland. "I know he's had to perform a balancing act most of his career with the problems in Nicaragua, with people wanting him to take sides," says Flanagan. "He's had more things to deal with than your average major leaguer."
Martinez's predicament took graphic form in the 1983 movie Under Fire, in which Nick Nolte plays a photojournalist covering the war in Nicaragua. At one point in the film, a Sandinista guerrilla named Pedro gives Nolte a baseball and asks him to take it back to Martinez in the States. Moments later Pedro throws a plastic explosive for a perfect strike into a sniper's nest. As they walk away, Pedro turns to Nolte and says, "Koufax was good, but Dennis Martinez, he is the best. He's from Nicaragua. He pitches major leagues. You see Dennis Martinez, you tell him my curveball is better. And I have good scroogie. I like Sandinistas, and I like Baltimore Orioles." A moment later a bullet rips through Pedro's chest. He dies with Martinez's name on his lips.
"I was shocked when I saw it," Martinez says of the scene in Under Fire. "See, the Sandinistas thought I was with them, and the contras thought I was with them, but I wasn't with either. I was never on one side or the other because I never wanted to divide the people of my country. I wanted to bring them together."
In July 1979, Somoza fled Nicaragua for Miami. That fall, the Orioles got into the World Series, but Martinez was pummeled by the Pittsburgh Pirates in his two brief appearances, and Baltimore lost the Series four games to three. After the loss, Martinez's drinking became less restrained than ever. "I was young, I had a big contract, and I lost my head," he says. "I thought, Now they have to pay me no matter what I do, and I got very cocky. I was getting drunk in front of people, trying to act like a big shot. I always did everything to extremes. If I had one drink, I didn't want to leave until the bar closed."
When his father died in 1982, Dennis returned to Granada for the funeral of this man he had scarcely known. "I think I was the only one who didn't cry," he says. "I felt like, What do I have to cry for? Nobody wanted him when he was drunk, and he was drunk all the time." Dennis had once sworn to himself that he would never be like his father, but Edmundo's death provoked a strange response. "From that point on, I went even deeper [into drinking]," Dennis says. "Maybe I was trying to take his place."
As his thirst grew, his preparations for satisfying it became increasingly elaborate. "It definitely controls you," he says. "I never drank the night before I pitched, and I thought it didn't affect me. But I had trouble going to sleep those nights, and it didn't occur to me until much later that it was because I had no alcohol in my system. And during the game I was already thinking, Tonight I'm going to drink two or three beers."
He was expected to be the ace of the Baltimore staff in 1983, but when the Orioles beat the Philadelphia Phillies in the World Series that year, Martinez played no part in the triumph. He had finished the season with a 7-16 record, had been dropped from the starting rotation and did not pitch in the Series. His demotion to the bullpen only hastened his slide. "That was the killing point," he says. "Now I didn't have to worry about pitching, so I drank every night."
That winter he was arrested in Baltimore for drunken driving and was admitted to Sheppard Pratt Hospital for treatment of his alcoholism. He was in the hospital for eight weeks drying out; after he was released he joined Alcoholics Anonymous. Martinez hasn't had a drink in eight years.
But sobering up didn't immediately revive his arm or sharpen his control. His earned run average stubbornly remained above 5.00 for the next two seasons, and the Baltimore coaching staff grew frustrated by the dousing of his old competitive fires. "The first year I was concentrating more on my recovery than baseball," Martinez says. "That was the number one thing in my life. I knew everybody thought I was washed up." He appeared in only four games for the Orioles in 1986 and was shelled so soundly in three of those that he was booed by the Baltimore fans. Weaver's patience, too, had been used up, and Martinez was dealt to Montreal for utility infielder Rene Gonzales.