All of baseball focused its eyes on Fenway Park on Saturday in hopes of seeing one of the greatest postseason pitching matchups in history. Forget it. What happened was even better than that. Instead of a duel between Boston's Pedro Martinez and New York's Roger Clemens, the sport got one of its greatest solo exhibitions of courage, craft, resourcefulness and pitching with pain--entirely by Martinez.
In the bullpen before the game, both pitchers found out the truth. The recently injured Martinez discovered that his back hurt "on every pitch." He had "no fastball," throwing his hardest pitches 6-8 mph slower than he normally does. The radar gun confirmed his worst suspicions. His curve and change-up stunk, too.
Sometimes, in baseball, you just have to go out to the mound naked. Sometimes, a champion doesn't throw the ball. He has to throw his heart.
"I'm hurting on every pitch I throw. . . . I pray to God I can keep going and that my team can pick me up and score some runs," said Martinez. "If you were hurting like I was hurting, you would not be pitching. . . . But whatever I have, I'm going to take out there. . . . In the first inning, I had exactly what I had the whole game--nothing."
Clemens, warming up under a rain of verbal abuse from Red Sox fans, also got a vital reading on the state of affairs. "I felt great warming up. I took it to the mound, too. . . . My focus felt locked in," said Clemens, the five-time Cy Young Award winner who is regarded as the biggest traitor in Red Sox history for leaving the team three years ago. On that radar gun, Clemens was hitting 95 mph, the same speed he had in '97 and '98 when he led the American League in everything that matters.
So what happened when the two probable future Hall of Famers--one with nothing and the other with everything--actually took the mound?
Martinez pitched an absolute masterpiece, shutting out the Yankees for seven innings on two hits, two walks and 12 strikeouts. He threw junk, junk and more junk. His first four strikeout pitches never exceeded 80 mph--the speed you get on one of those roadside 20-pitches-for-a-dollar machines. "Spot the ball, change speeds and guess what they are guessing, so you don't throw it there," grinned Martinez after a 13-1 win.
Yes, a 13-1 victory to cut the Yankees' lead in this American League Championship Series to two games to one. Clemens faced only 15 batters and got shelled for five runs in two-plus innings. The first two Red Sox blasted him for a triple and home run. By the time 10 Bosox had batted, Boston had hit for the cycle against the Rocket Man. To be blunt, the pitchers' duel of the millennium was over after 16 minutes. That's when John Valentin's home run gave Martinez a two-run lead.
Did the Fenway faithful love Clemens's suffering? Oh, not much. "No Ring For Roger," proclaimed one sign. "Roger . . . Roger," the packed house chanted in a sarcastic singsong. Clemens wasn't around long enough to give anybody laryngitis. By the late innings, the crowd had updated its chant to "Where is Ro-ger?" In the show-er.
Even though the Red Sox also scored two runs off Clemens in the second inning, Valentin's homer seemed to give Martinez all he needed to play with the mind of every Yankees hitter. In September, he pitched a one-hitter with 17 strikeouts in what many call the best game pitched at Yankee Stadium. It's possible that the world champions are in awe of Martinez. Before this game, Yankees Manager Joe Torre described Martinez as "like Bob Gibson, but with finesse, or like Greg Maddux, but with a 96 mph fastball."
The Red Sox were inspired by Martinez, but not surprised by him. "He knows how to pitch. He thinks out there," said shortstop Nomar Garciaparra, who had two singles, a double and a home run. Because of Garciaparra and Martinez, Red Sox fans carried signs that said, "What Curse? With Nomar and Pedro, We're Blessed."
This game was an abject lesson in what matters in baseball and what doesn't. Old school Red Sox manager Jimy Williams, who is mocked here for his malapropisms--called Jimywocky--defined the whole issue. The four elements of pitching are "location, change of speeds, movement on the ball and velocity. And velocity is last."
Martinez hit spots--areas not much bigger than a baseball card--with pitches that no man should have under complete command. The fastball is the precise pitch. The sidearm change-up? The three-quarter arm sinker that fades away like a screwball to left-handers? The hard curve that bites under the hands? Those aren't precision pitches, except for pitchers such as Martinez, Maddux and a few others. But of those rare artists, Martinez has the most moxie and grit.
Five days ago in Cleveland, Martinez came out of the bullpen in Game 5 of the division series not knowing if he could pitch even one inning. Instead, he went six, allowing zero hits while striking out eight. That night he also started with no real fastball, by his standards, but loosened up and, by the last innings, was almost his normal self.
"This wasn't like I expected my back to feel," said Martinez. "I didn't feel as good as I did in Cleveland. . . . It was stiff and sore. . . . But if I can get one out, I will do it. That's what I'm here for. . . . I'm not lying."
Those who think Martinez is gilding the lily aren't looking at the radar gun or the quality of his pitches. He truly isn't sharp. Yet in his last 13 crisis innings, he has allowed no runs and two singles while fanning 20. He's adding chapters to a saga that may end up on baseball's highest shelf.
Many will assume that the Yanks are still securely in the driver's seat in this series. They have a game in hand and the home-field advantage. On paper, at least, they have an edge in the next three pitching matchups. However, that analysis may underestimate the psychological impact of Martinez, especially after this game.
If Martinez can fan 12 Yankees with "nothing" and 17 Yankees when he has his good stuff, how much anxiety will creep into the Yankees dugout at the prospect of a Game 7 rematch between Martinez and Clemens?
Is it really possible that the Yankees now feel that they must win this series in six games? On days like this, Red Sox hopes--those miserable, rotten, pointless Red Sox hopes--just keep surfacing all over again. Here's a thought. Is it possible that Roger Clemens brought The Curse to New York with him, just as Babe Ruth supposedly took all the Red Sox luck with him to the Yankees? Rational minds will reject such fantasy. But after what Pedro Martinez and his aching back did in Game 3, rational minds are in short supply at Fenway Park.