Tuesday, October 12, 1999

Martinez carries Sox on bad back

The Cincinnati Enquirer

        CLEVELAND — Pedro Martinez was saving himself. He wouldn't cut loose on his fastball for fear of doing more damage to his back. He was pitching on egg shells.

        Goose egg shells, it turned out.

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        “I knew I couldn't push to throw my fastball as hard as I could,” Boston's brilliant right-hander said Monday night. “I just tried to get the ball over (the plate) and hit my spots.”

        If there is more to Pedro Martinez than he revealed to the Cleveland Indians, then he ought to be outlawed before he drives hitters to despair. Working in relief, unsure of his staying power, the Cy Young certainty pitched six hitless innings Monday night in Boston's 12-8 victory, carrying the Red Sox into the American League Championship Series and a best-of-seven sensory overload against their ancient rivals, the New York Yankees.

        Martinez walked in from the bullpen in the fourth inning and promptly turned a chaotic slugfest into an orderly procession back to the dugout. He showed how much difference one man can make when that man throws a paralyzing change-up and a hyperactive fastball.

Hitting ruled early
        The score was 8-8 when Martinez made his way to the mound. Cleveland's 1,000-run offense went 0-for-18 thereafter. Troy O'Leary drove in seven runs for the Red Sox with a grand slam and a three-run homer — both blows on the first pitch after the Indians walked Nomar Garciaparra intentionally — but this game might still be going on if Martinez had not gotten involved.

        “Pedro obviously was the big difference in this game tonight,” said Cleveland manager Mike Hargrove. “There was a lot of lumber being swung early in the game and the difference was Pedro came in and shut us down.”

        Fresh off Boston's record-setting 23-7 stampede Sunday night at Fenway Park, the two teams observed a change of venue for the decisive game of the series. But the same hitting shoes showed up at Jacobs Field.

        For three innings, it was batting practice. Cleveland's Charles Nagy and Boston's Bret Saberhagen — both of them working on three days' rest — pitched as if they were coming off a three-day drunk.

Pedro couldn't hurt
        Boston manager Jimy Williams decided he could do no worse with his achy ace. So he sent for Martinez and crossed his fingers, hoping that baseball's most dominant pitcher could carry the Red Sox through the middle innings.

        “He came out around 4 o'clock today and made a few tosses and said his arm felt good,” Williams said. “With that in mind, we thought maybe a few innings, tops ... I didn't know if he would be able to go one inning, two innings — I didn't know. I don't think he knew how far he'd be able to go, but it seemed to loosen up for him.”

        Martinez would walk four hitters — uncharacteristic — but he struck out eight. Twice, he fanned Cleveland's Jim Thome, who had homered twice against Martinez' predecessors. Never was his dominance in doubt.

        “The big thing was he didn't try to overthrow,” Williams said. “He didn't muscle the ball. He used his legs and he didn't try to muscle it and throw awfully hard so he was able to last that much longer in the game and complete it.”

        When he threw before batting practice, Martinez made only four or five tosses before shutting himself down. He was satisfied that his arm felt strong, but he didn't want to put any more stress on his back than necessary. He figured if he was called on to pitch, the adrenaline would help him get through. Even so, he would feel a tightness in his last two innings and pitched accordingly.

        “We've got a lot of heart on this team,” O'Leary said, “and Pedro showed it.”

        He has shown both heart and heat this year, winning 23 games during the regular season, striking out 313 in 213 innings, and making so many hitters look silly that he should have spotted them two balls per at-bat.

        When he left Game One with a twinge in his back, the division series was all but conceded to Cleveland. When he returned Monday night, it was as if he had never been away.

        Enquirer columnist Tim Sullivan welcomes e-mail at tsullivan@enquirer.com.