Even at breakfast, Dennis Martinez had begun to focus on the Milwaukee Brewers.
For a week, the Baltimore Orioles pitcher had been thinking about his 71-year-old father, killed a week ago when a car struck him on the street, knocking him into the path of a bus. Martinez had flown to Nicaragua for the funeral and the mourning, then flown back, his thoughts still on his father.
"I was really hurt," says the 27-year-old Martinez. "It's hard to forget, even a little bit. He did everything for me. I did not think about baseball for days. It never crossed my mind. But this is my job. I must concentrate even harder now, for him."
So, as Martinez nibbled at his eggs, he decided that he better not throw too many curves to Gorman Thomas, even though the slugger couldn't hit his best one. "If you hang one, it's bye-bye," said Martinez. "He will have to beat me with my best pitch, the fast ball."
Martinez had noticed that the Brewers were so anxious to hit Jim Palmer's fast balls the night before that they'd made many outs on fast balls just off the plate, while they took breaking balls for strikes.
"They are very hungry team for fast balls," said Martinez, "and they will follow them out of the strike zone. I watched Palmer and learned."
Throughout his successful, but perplexing career, Dennis Martinez has had only one consistent weakness -- an inability to concentrate for nine innings. From inning to inning, game to game, he can be two different pitchers. All four of his pitches together are considered as formidable as any basic collection in the league. None is great, but all are very good. More than good enough to be a big winner. A bigger winner than he has been. Also, Martinez has the control not only to avoid walks but to pitch to spots as well.
His last game, nine days before, was the Martinez prototype. After six shutout innings against Cleveland, in which he seemed overpowering, Martinez had a 2-0 lead that looked like 10-0. Then, a leadoff scratch hit in the seventh seemed to rattle him. On the next strike, a rookie hit a home run to tie the game and, two pitches later, a journeyman blasted another homer.
In the span of five pitches, Martinez was gone, a lead lost, and eventually, a game, too.
Today, however, from the time he walked the 100 slow yards from the bullpen to the mound -- in his black jacket, white towel about the neck, long black hair and mustache, black glove, jaw full of tobacco, a study in high style -- Martinez seemed a more composed and unflappable pitcher than in other vital games of his six-year career.
"We've never seen Martinez so poised and calm," said Brewers Coach Larry Haney.
Martinez was tested in almost every fashion.
In the second inning, he faced exactly the situation against Thomas that he had imagined at breakfast -- a 3-1 pitch. He made just the fast-ball, up-and-in offering that he'd planned. And Thomas chunked a 320-foot fly ball that scraped the foul pole for a discount home run. Instead of being flustered and wild, eight of Martinez' next nine pitches were strikes.
In the third, when Paul Molitor stole second base against Martinez's notoriously inadequate pickoff move, the right-hander was not, as is so often the case, upset at having his flaw exposed. He attacked Robin Yount -- curve, fast ball, curve--and got two weak fouls and an inning-ending dribbler to short.
Again in the fourth and sixth, the Brewers got ground ball doubles over the bag at first--fair by inches. Instead of cursing his luck, Martinez got out Ben Oglivie and Thomas (in the fourth), then Ted Simmons in the sixth to escape. That was doubly tough because, according to coaches on both teams, Simmons twice stole the upcoming pitch location from watching catcher Rick Dempsey's target and then flashed the information to Oglivie and Thomas at the plate.
Both ripped loud outs at outfielders.
The whole park seemed to feel that Brewers pitcher Mike Caldwell would hold the game close, then win when Martinez folded suddenly.
Perhaps, of course, that almost happened. This is no fairy tale, but the major leagues. The Brewers' No. 8 and 9 hitters led off the eighth with clean singles. Then, .300-hitting Paul Molitor took it on himself to sacrifice bunt; though it worked, it was probably poor strategy and, in addition, gave the impression that Molitor was looking for a way not to swing in the clutch.
Martinez got Yount to chop to the left side -- a potential double play ball. Except that the grounder had eyes and found left field, knocking out Martinez.
The whole day of poor Orioles' fortune was quickly reversed when the next batter, Cecil Cooper, hit a fly that should have tied the game, taken away Martinez's victory and inspired the Brewers. However, the same wind that had robbed Baltimore knocked the drive down and allowed center fielder John Shelby to throw out the tying run at the plate.
After his victory, Martinez threw himself voluntarily into what is a blossoming war of words between Orioles and Brewers.
Before this game, Dempsey was telling his mates that Caldwell had been saying, "They don't belong in the same league with us."
Caldwell denied this, but hardly in a friendly manner, snapping, "I didn't say that, but, if they think I did, the hell with 'em. If they want to believe that . . ."
Martinez, who will face Milwaukee again on Friday, countered, saying, "They look like they are pressing every time they play us. They are a great ball club, but they know we can beat them. If we keep close to them, we can beat them."
In fact, after 10 games (one a tie) this year, it is the Orioles who, hard as it is to believe, have 29 more base hits than Milwaukee in the head-to-head meetings. Baltimore, which leads the series, 6-3, also has more homers, 16-9, and has held the Brewers' No. 3 and 4 hitters -- Cooper and Simmons -- to a combined batting average of .108 (seven for 65) with one RBI.
"After the way they beat us (15-6 on Friday), they had to feel, 'Well, we got it,' " said Martinez. "Now, it's down to two games. That's nothing."
Thanks largely to Dennis Martinez.