Three years ago, Pedro Martinez had the gall to say, "Wake up the damn Bambino and have me face him. Maybe I'll drill him in the ass."
Don't mess with the Babe. If you're a pitcher, don't dare have the hubris to say that you'd throw a ball at Babe Ruth even if he's been dead for decades. Maybe that's the lesson Martinez should have learned long ago.
When it comes to curses, it certainly appears that the Bambino has a special place for Pedro.
On Wednesday night in Yankee Stadium, formerly the House that Ruth Built but now The Stadium That Owns Pedro, the normally superb Martinez was beaten yet again by New York. To chorus after chorus of "Who's your daddy?" Martinez pitched decently but not nearly well enough, allowing three runs in six innings in a 3-1 loss to Jon Lieber.
Perhaps it's the Bambino who's really Pedro's daddy.
That makes Boston's record 11-20 in games started by Martinez against the Yankees. And most of that awful mark has been made after Pedro made his infamous "Drill The Babe" quip. In his first two years with the Red Sox, Boston actually won five of seven games against the Yankees started by Martinez. Since then he's gone 6-18, including this defeat that leaves the Red Sox in a two-games-to-none deficit in this American League Championship Series.
Well, that didn't take long, did it?
Baseball held its breath for almost a year waiting for the Red Sox glamorous rematch with the Yankees and now, after just two games, the whole sport is looking down the barrel of a New York blowout.
Wednesday was one of those purely Red Sox days when standing on your head in bed would have been an excellent idea. First, the Red Sox reported, in excruciating medical detail, that 21-game winner Curt Schilling has an ankle injury so bad that he may be out for the year. It's conceivable that he could still start Game 5, but the more the injury was described by a Red Sox doctor, the less likely his chances seemed to be.
Then, a few hours later, Martinez lost to his Yankee daddies one more inexplicable time despite excellent stuff, including 96-mph fastballs worthy of his prime. This time a two-run sixth-inning homer by John Olerud, one of the least-feared hitters in the New York lineup, struck the most damaging blow. Naturally, he hit it into the first rows of the short right-field pavilion that was constructed to accommodate Ruth's lesser swats.
So, here we are: Good luck, "Branson"Arroyo, whoever you are, in Game 3 Friday in Fenway Park. It's all up to you. Oh, sorry, that would be "Bronson." Best wishes as well to knuckleballer Tim Wakefield and Mr. Undecided in Games 4 and 5. If the Red Sox don't win two-out-of-three at home, this ALCS isn't even coming back here to Yankee Stadium for a proper melodramatic culmination.
Even before this Game 2, Theo Epstein and Josh Byrnes stood on the field of Yankee Stadium here with looks of incredulity on their faces. The Red Sox general manager and his top assistant had the same expression as so many of their predecessors. To be in charge of running the Red Sox, and to come here to The Big Ballpark every year to resume The Quest is to know how Don Quixote felt. It's tough to beat a windmill with a splintered lance.
"Arroyo has pitched as well as anybody we have against the Yankees this year," said Epstein.
"Remember, Chad Ogea [for Cleveland] beat [Florida's] Kevin Brown twice in the '97 World Series," said Byrnes. "In a short series you can never tell who the pitching hero will be."
Still, the pair could not get over the irony that Schilling, the player they had done so much to woo to Boston last Thanksgiving, had been in near-perfect health all season until turning his ankle twice against the Angels last week.
No matter how many times the Red Sox physician, Bill Morgan, described what was wrong with Schilling's right ankle, it didn't sound any less painful or any easier to fix in time for the designated Yankee Killer to work a Game 5. In fact, every time Morgan talked about how this crazy loose tendon "snapped" from one side of Schilling's ankle bone to the other, refusing to stay on the proper side -- or even to stay on the wrong side, for that matter -- the condition sounded worse.
And so perfectly Red Sox.
Schilling's tendon isn't ripped, frayed or imperfect in any way. There's just this "groove" or "peroneal sheath" in everybody's ankle that a well-behaved tendon just naturally stays in. But Schilling's sheath isn't doing its job. So, as Schilling winds up, then pushes off the pitching rubber, he never knows at what instant this confounded tendon may, or may not, suddenly "snap" or "pop" as it flips over the bone to the other side.
It hurts. But more than that it just drives you crazy not knowing, as you rock back over the rubber, or at the very instant you release the pitch, whether a major tendon in your ankle is going to flip out of place like some kind of trick knee.
"[The tendon] is just not in the groove where it's supposed to be," Morgan said. "After the first inning [of Game 1], the [ankle] brace didn't work. The tendon kept going back and forth. If we can get that tendon to be stabilized he can pitch with his normal delivery. He'll be out there and then have surgery when we are done playing. If we can't, he's done."
Oh, great. We can expect three days to Boston headlines about whether Curt Can Get His Groove Back On.
In future years, when only box scores are consulted, it may appear that Martinez pitched rather poorly in Game 2, allowing nine base runners and working out of four jams. However, if anything, he had too much raw stuff, not too little, and had trouble with his command. If there is a Game 6 and Martinez pitches, it might be a mistake to consider him an underdog in a rematch with the soft-tossing Lieber, who capitalized on the Red Sox impatience.
If anything Martinez kept his dignity despite his defeat. As he took the mound in the first inning, he heard exactly the chants from the packed house that he had expected, in response to his "the Yankees are my daddy" quote last month.
And Pedro had his answer ready.
"Who's your daddy?" bellowed the crowd.
Martinez pointed straight up to the sky.
The Yankees may think they "own" him, but Pedro thinks he knows who made him.
Then, with a look of utter imperious contempt, Martinez proceeded to prove that he is still bares some resemblance to the Great Pedro of previous years whose career won-lost record, ERA and strikeout totals are almost a carbon copy of Sandy Koufax. However, that fellow ran out of gas after only five effective innings. A walk to Jorge Posada in the sixth was Martinez's fourth of the game. Trying to get back into the strike zone, Martinez found the middle of the plate to Olerud. And Olerud found the bleachers.
If Arroyo and Wakefield, who frequently bamboozles the Yankees with his flutterball, can work well back in Fenway, then there is still hope for a Schilling reappearance with a different ankle brace. Still, even Schilling hardly seemed optimistic as he left the Boston clubhouse after Game 1.
"If I can't go out there with something better than what I had today, I'm not going back out there," said Schilling. "This is not about me braving through something. This is about us and winning a world championship and if I can't give them better than I had today, I won't take the ball again."
So, Martinez says the Yankees are his daddies, then goes out and loses to them again. And Schilling says "this is not about me braving through something" when October is often the month when pitchers depend on bravery more than good health.
At this very moment, a line has formed outside Yankee Manager Joe Torre's office. Game 3 starter Kevin Brown, who has endured back spasms all season, says he's feeling good enough to pitch effectively, as he did against the Twins last week. And Orlando "El Duque" Hernandez, who pronounced his own shoulder "dead" just two weeks ago says that it is alive again. Gimme the ball, skipper.
"All of a sudden, our pitching looks pretty good," said Torre. "We may have one more [starting] pitcher than we need."
Perhaps Joe could lend him to the Red Sox.