Saturday, October 16, 1999

Martinez may take suspense out of matchup




BY TIM SULLIVAN
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        BOSTON — Pedro Martinez is what Roger Clemens was. What Roger Clemens is now depends on the day.

        What might be the most delicious pitching matchup of the decade easily might devolve into nine innings of anticlimax. Martinez has been that dominant. Clemens has become that inconsistent.

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        Yet today's third game of the American League Championship Series is so fraught with emotion, so teeming with subtext and so enormously important to the mental health of Massachusetts that it grabs your eye all the way to the socket.

        Here are the Boston Red Sox doing battle against their ancient antagonists from New York, with the greatest pitcher in their history now working for the Yankees. Here is Martinez, hurting and heroic, desperate to pitch his team back into a series that so far has consisted of agonizing defeats. Here is an afternoon of heartbreak or healing, rapture or rage, curses or exorcisms.

        Here is a game of baseball with the ponderous feel of a morality play and 33,000 of the toughest tickets in the annals of sport. It couldn't possibly be worthy of all the hype, or the $12,000 a Boston scalper reportedly received for four prime seats. Could it?

Impeccable Pedro
        “I think the circuit breaker for that electric company — for the great pad in the sky — they might be challenged,” Boston manager Jimy Williams said.

        When Martinez last faced the Yankees, on Sept.10 in New York, he struck out 17 and allowed only one hit. When he last pitched in the playoffs, in the division series clincher against Cleveland, he threw six innings of no-hit relief. With 23 victories, 313 strikeouts and a 2.40 earned run average, Martinez led the American League in every major category. Awe included.

        “Every time he gives up a hit, I kick myself in the butt,” Boston catcher Jason Varitek said. “I'm thinking, "Today could have been something special.' That's the feeling: "Why did he give up one hit?'”

        Clemens was pitching that way as recently as last season, when he won an unprecedented fifth Cy Young Award in Toronto. Upon joining the game's ranking juggernaut this spring, Clemens' quest for a World Series ring was viewed as virtually inevitable. The Yankees may well defend their world title this month, but it probably would be with Clemens playing a supporting role.

Not the same Clemens
        At 37, Clemens still has a formidable fastball, but his ability to hit his spots has been spotty. He was 14-10 in his first season with the Yankees, had a losing record after the All-Star Game and became something of a scapegoat for Yankees fans who remembered a more reliable Rocket.

        But in his first playoff appearance for the Yankees, Clemens pitched seven shutout innings in the clincher against Texas. Granted, the Rangers would be lucky to hit the ocean from a raft in October, but the Yankees pitcher's progress was plain. David Cone calls it the day Clemens “became a Yankee.”

        “When you get in these type of games, your focus has to elevate,” Clemens said Friday. “I know that will definitely have to be the situation (today). I don't think that I am going to be afforded too many mistakes going against Pedro ... Right now, he is not giving too many people — whether it be the Yankees or anybody — hardly any chance.”

        Martinez' tender back has not healed fully. His bullpen has been prone to breakdowns. His hitters are 1-for-12 with runners in scoring position. But his stuff is so good all those other things may not matter.

        “When he's pitching,” said Boston third baseman John Valentin, “you know you may not get a ground ball. You become a fan on the field.”

        With a World Series at stake, the fans in the stands figure to be boisterous. A cake delivered to the Red Sox clubhouse Friday carried an inscription that read, “Kill Those Yankees.” Clemens, the Boston hero-turned-turncoat, can count on some interesting invective from his former fans.

        “It is not business as usual,” he said. “I will be as excited as everyone else. But hopefully, I can channel all that and get off to a good start. Hopefully, I can hold up my end of the deal to make it exciting.”

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

       



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