The Boston Red Sox got the word late this afternoon. Pedro Martinez's ailing back had improved enough that he might be available to pitch if the Red Sox needed him to close out tonight's deciding Game 5 of their American League first-round playoff series against the Cleveland Indians.
Hours later, when the Red Sox found themselves in a slugfest with baseball's highest-scoring team and after Red Sox Manager Jimy Williams watched the Indians light up both starter Bret Saberhagen and reliever Derek Lowe, he asked Martinez to warm up.
Legends are born out of such moments, and Martinez's already sizable one grew even larger tonight as he walked in from the bullpen with the Red Sox trailing by a run in the fourth inning. In the best tradition of Willis Reed, Martinez threw six dazzling no-hit innings and allowed the Red Sox to rally to defeat the Indians, 12-8, in front of 45,114 at Jacobs Field.
As the favored Indians head home for the winter, the resilient Red Sox rallied from a two-games-to-none deficit in the series to advance to the AL Championship Series against their hated rivals, the New York Yankees. Game 1 will be Wednesday night at Yankee Stadium.
Martinez had plenty of help from left fielder Troy O'Leary, who homered twice and drove in seven runs. O'Leary connected for a grand slam in the third inning, then with the game tied at 8 in the seventh, hit a three-run home run to give Martinez the lead he never gave back.
"I wasn't going to let go," Martinez said. "I decided I was going to be out there as long as I could. I wanted it to be on my shoulders."
Martinez had not pitched since leaving Game 1 five days ago with a pulled muscle in his lower back. He appeared lost for the series after short throwing sessions on Saturday and Sunday, but after a few tosses this afternoon, told Williams he would give it a try.
"We thought maybe he could go a couple of innings, tops," Williams said.
Tonight's victory was the latest indication that these Red Sox are a hard team to figure out. They're a team with a pair of superstars -- Martinez and shortstop Nomar Garciaparra -- and a roster of guys mostly unknown outside of New England.
General Manager Dan Duquette claimed O'Leary on waivers after he'd been let go by the Milwaukee Brewers four years ago. He averaged 16 home runs his first four seasons in Boston before hitting 28 and driving in 103 runs this year.
In a season when big-ticket teams such as the Dodgers and Orioles have fallen on their faces, the Red Sox are an interesting collection of role players and underrated youngsters.
"We've got a lot of heart on this team," O'Leary said. "Pedro showed it. He pitched like the Cy Young winner he is."
O'Leary stepped to the plate both times after Indians Manager Mike Hargrove ordered Garciaparra intentionally walked. Typifying a bad week for one of baseball's most successful managers, Hargrove watched the strategy blow up in his face both times.
Hargrove probably decided against pitching to Garciaparra after watching him hit a two-run home run off starter Charles Nagy in the first inning. But like his decision to pitch Jaret Wright in relief in Game 3 and his decision to pitch Bartolo Colon on three days' rest in Game 4, the strategy didn't work.
"Nomar is such a good hitter that we chose to put him on rather than pitch around him," Hargrove said. "We'd been handling O'Leary until tonight. Charley [Nagy] got a pitch over the plate that he hit for the grand slam. I think he got a hanging split-finger from [Paul] Shuey for the other one."
Some of Hargrove's moves may have backfired, but the Indians probably were doomed anyway because of a bullpen that compiled a 13.05 earned run average during the series.
Martinez helped stop what had been a wild game in which both starters were torched and the Indians had an 8-7 lead after just three innings. Saberhagen allowed five runs in one-plus innings. His counterpart, Nagy, was no better, allowing eight runs (seven earned) in three-plus innings.
Nagy twice failed to hold leads, and after Lowe allowed three runs in two innings, Williams went for his 23-game winner.
"Pedro obviously was the big difference in this game," Hargrove said. "He came in and shut us down. His velocity wasn't what you usually see, but he had a good breaking ball and change-up. He made pitches when he needed to. That's what he's done all year long.
The Red Sox picked up where they left off Sunday in a record-setting 23-7 Game 4 victory. They scored two runs in the first and five in the third. But the Indians were scoring too, getting eight in the first three innings. First baseman Jim Thome hit a pair of two-run home runs, including one in the third that gave the Indians an 8-7 lead.
Then Martinez entered. Before the game, Hargrove said he'd heard Martinez might not pitch for a week. Martinez might have been thinking the same thing himself before taking a few warmup pitches this afternoon.
"I threw four or five pitches and felt pretty good," Martinez said. "I didn't want to feel anything else. I wanted to get the adrenaline and mind going and that would drive me to throw the ball over the plate. That's what I did."
Martinez didn't have his usual velocity, but still sailed. The Indians didn't get a runner into scoring position and the only base runners came on three walks. Martinez struck out eight.
The Red Sox tied it at 8 in the fourth, and it remained tied until the seventh. Third baseman John Valentin led off and beat out an infield grounder. Brian Daubach grounded out, with Valentin going to second. With first base open, Hargrove ordered Shuey to walk Garciaparra, once more bringing O'Leary to the plate.
Asked if he were insulted that the Indians walked Garciaparra to pitch to him, O'Leary shrugged. "It's been like that all year because of the player he is," he said. "Sometimes, I respond. Sometimes, I don't. Tonight was a good night. Now we have to go on and play the Yankees in the jungle."
After a brief clubhouse celebration, Williams said he had no idea who would pitch against the Yankees. "We'll just savor this moment," Williams said. "We're not tired. I don't know who the hell's going to pitch, but we'll find someone."