-- Pedro Martinez is no longer the focal point of the Boston Red Sox, nor even the staff ace, for that matter. Game 1 used to be his, automatically. Now, it's Game 2 or -- on Tuesday night at Busch Stadium in the World Series -- Game 3. He was once the Incomparable Pedro. Now, he's just another wild-haired whack-job on a team that has raised buffoonery, however forced it may be, to an art form.

Which perhaps helps explain better than anything Martinez's recent spate of bizarre behavior -- the cryptic quotes about "daddies" and mango trees, or the parading around with a 28-inch-tall Dominican actor. If what Martinez wanted to do was get back on the front page, he might have been better off suffering some freakish injury that required unprecedented surgery and extreme personal heroism just to get back on a mound.

The media, as some clearly grasp, eat that stuff up.

But Martinez, who turned 33 on Monday, has one more chance to reclaim his place at the front of the sport's consciousness -- and perhaps one last chance to punctuate his unforgettable tenure in Boston. It comes in Game 3 against the St. Louis Cardinals, the first World Series start of Martinez's storied career and -- perhaps -- his final start for the Red Sox.

The Red Sox hold a 2-0 edge in the series after winning both games this past weekend at Fenway Park. But history says there is a long way to go, especially with the Red Sox, who in 1986 won the first two games of the World Series against the New York Mets -- on the road, no less -- only to lose the Series.

True to their natures, the Cardinals appeared serious and surgical during their workout Monday, while the Red Sox were loose and rowdy during theirs. Martinez took batting practice with the other Red Sox pitchers but maintained his October policy of media blackouts prior to his starts. So it was left once again to his manager and teammates to frame the meaning of Martinez's moment Tuesday night.

"He's done so much in his career," said catcher Jason Varitek. "What he's done is phenomenal. I doubt there's any kid growing up who wouldn't want to have Pedro's career. [A World Series win] would kind of top off his resume."

"I think Pedro is geared up," Manager Terry Francona said, "to pitch a very good game."

Martinez tends to have trouble getting loose in cold weather, but the temperatures in St. Louis this week are expected to be near 70 degrees. The only damper is the possibility of rain the next two nights.

The last time Martinez pitched, it was Game 7 of the American League Championship Series, and Francona ran him out to the mound in relief against the New York Yankees, in what amounted to garbage time, so that Martinez could leave Yankee Stadium on a positive note, as opposed to leaving with the mocking chant of "Who's your dad-dy?" ringing in his ears, as it did in Games 2 and 5.

It would have been unthinkable for Martinez to have required such a courtesy a few years ago. But this is not quite the same Martinez.

Although he is still capable of throwing his fastball in the mid-nineties, it more often hovers around 90 mph, and rarely zings toward anyone's chin anymore. His inconsistent 2004 regular season saw him set career worsts for home runs allowed (26) and ERA (3.90). He left the Bronx with an 0-1 record and a 6.23 ERA during the ALCS.

"When he locates [his pitches], he's very, very tough to beat," Francona said. "Because he can throw four different pitches and he can elevate the ball, he can sink the ball, he can throw out, he can throw in with no problems. He was throwing the ball over the middle of the plate in September too much."

When it came time to set the Red Sox' postseason rotation, it was Francona who chose right-hander Curt Schilling, a newcomer this season to the madness that is the Red Sox, to start Game 1 of the Division Series -- instead of Martinez, the staff ace for six seasons -- and Schilling again in Game 1 of the ALCS. Only the taxing nature of the seven-game win over the Yankees prevented Schilling from starting Game 1 of the World Series.

Martinez has never complained publicly about being relegated to number two status -- in fact, he has been humble and gracious in his public praise of Schilling -- but privately, he has told friends the decision chafed him. Martinez's competitiveness is legendary, even when it comes to inner-clubhouse rivalries.

Martinez may not do Game 1's anymore, but he certainly does Game 7's, and few scenes would be more compelling than Martinez on the mound at Fenway Park on Sunday night -- Halloween night -- closing the books forever on the so-called Curse of the Bambino and helping clinch the franchise's first World Series title in 86 years.

However, because this series might not require a Game 7, it remains a possibility that Tuesday night will mark Martinez's final start in a Red Sox uniform. He becomes a free agent after the season, and most Red Sox insiders say the odds are no better than 50-50 that he will return to the team.

The Anaheim Angels are expected to pursue Martinez aggressively, and there is a segment of the Red Sox family that believes Martinez will end up with the Yankees -- if only for the shock value.

"He's a [controversy]-stirrer," said one of those people. "Think about it: What would be a bigger story in this [Yankees-Red Sox] rivalry?"

But before we start talking about Martinez's next chapter, there is this one to close out. There is Martinez, in Boston's road grays, standing on the mound in Game 3 with the eyes of the nation on him and with something to prove, just the way he likes it.

Pedro Martinez sweats out more situations than he used to, as attested by his career-worst 3.90 ERA this season. "I think Pedro is geared up to pitch a very good game," says Manager Terry Francona. Martinez was Boston's staff ace for 6 years."What he's done is phenomenal," catcher Jason Varitek says of Martinez. "I doubt there's any kid growing up who wouldn't want to have Pedro's career."