Sunday, October 17, 1999

With Martinez, it was never a contest




BY TIM SULLIVAN
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        BOSTON — The big duel was a dud. It wasn't Ali versus Frazier. It was Ali versus Frasier. It could only be considered a classic matchup if you happen to like carnage.

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        What Pedro Martinez and the Boston Red Sox did to Roger Clemens and the New York Yankees Saturday evening was less a playoff game than a public flogging, a 13-1 orgy of retribution and catharsis.

        For one delirious day, The Curse Of The Bambino was suspended. So, too, was disbelief. Martinez pitched in constant pain but dominated the Yankees as if they came to bat blindfolded. Clemens warmed up confidently only to be whacked about like a pinata.

        New York still leads the American League Championship Series, two games to one, but the competition no longer fits conveniently into the cubbyhole of Divine Right Baseball. Should Boston succeed in extending the series to a seventh game, Martinez and Clemens probably would meet again.

        The world champions had better wrap this up in a hurry, or they might be in a world of hurt.

        “These things happen,” Yankees owner George Steinbrenner proclaimed in the dressing room. “You just can't let it happen again.”

In total control
        The Yankees didn't figure to beat Martinez Saturday — he struck out 17 of them in a one-hitter last month — but neither could they have figured on being embarrassed by Pedro's “B” material during a Clemens meltdown. Yet that's exactly what happened. Still bothered by a strained back, Martinez took the mound with reduced velocity and uncertain staying power.

        “I didn't feel good at all,” he said. “I didn't have a fastball. I don't think I had a good changeup or a breaking ball at all ... If you were hurting like I did, I don't think you would be pitching unless you have the heart that I do.”

        The results of Martinez' laboring, however, looked remarkably effortless. He struck out 12 in seven innings, setting a Boston postseason record, but that doesn't begin to describe his dominance. The Yankees had two hits against Martinez, swung and missed 20 times in his 105 pitches and would not move a runner past first base until Red Sox manager Jimy Williams entrusted a 13-0 lead to his bullpen.

        “He's an artist out there,” Yankees manager Joe Torre said of Martinez. “He's got a baseball instead of a paint brush. There is no question that he carves up that plate pretty good and tries to keep you from sitting back and waiting for any particular pitch.”

For Pedro, it was comical
        Martinez guessed that his best fastball Saturday was only about 89 miles per hour — he usually reaches 97 mph on the radar guns — so he compensated with mind-boggling movement. Martinez threw one slow breaking ball so sharply that the Yankees' Chuck Knoblauch ducked out of the batter's box on a pitch that nearly caught the corner of home plate.

        The cameras caught Martinez laughing on the mound. This was a game that called for some comic relief.

        “(The pitch) looked so good that it was funny Knoblauch was running away,” Martinez said. “... Knoblauch was running like it was a fastball at his head.”

        Clemens hinted that he had not thrown enough head-high fastballs. He said some of his old Boston teammates were “too comfortable” at the plate against him; that he had not “extended” enough. This is pitcher's code for: “The next one's at your ear.”

        Because Clemens' postseason work has been consistently inferior to his regular-season results, the popular hypothesis is that he cracks under pressure. Certainly the boos, the taunts and the stakes were not conducive to his peace of mind.

        “He just didn't have the command that we would like to see him have,” Torre said. “That was basically it. It is tough, especially in this ballpark ... when it is a high-scoring game normally. When Pedro is on the mound, it makes it that much tougher.”

        With Pedro Martinez on the mound, all things are possible. The Yankees' consolation is that they should be done with him for a few days.

        Tim Sullivan welcomes your email at tsullivan@enquirer.com.

        SULLIVAN ARCHIVE