If Pedro Martinez was not muttering "Who's your daddy?" on Tuesday night as he mowed down the St. Louis Cardinals in Game 3 of the World Series, then he missed a wonderful opportunity to relish the ironies and ecstasies of baseball in October.
In Yankee Stadium exactly two weeks ago, Martinez couldn't silence a crowd that taunted him incessantly, repeating a variation of his own words back at him. But on this night, the Great Pedro, not the pale imitation of himself that he has been at times this mediocre season, returned to the mound for one of the sport's indelible moments.
The absolutely perfect man, a seven-season Red Sox and one of the most spectacular performers in the history of the franchise, was on the mound to pitch the Boston Red Sox to within one game of their first world championship since 1918.
Last October, then-manager Grady Little left Martinez on the mound too long, until he had blown a three-run eighth-inning lead with a pennant on the line. In the endless history of Red Sox indignities, none burned with a hotter gall.
Now, Martinez has enjoyed the opposite and perhaps even greater pleasure of hurling seven shutout innings, allowing only three hits and two walks while fanning six Cards, in a 4-1 Boston victory that, for all intents and purposes, decided this World Series.
Don't tempt fate, you say? Forget it. Fate has folded. What had never been done in 101 years of postseason baseball, until the Red Sox did it to the Yankees last week, is not about to be done to them by the Cardinals. The memory is too fresh. A three-games-to-none lead, which the Red Sox now have, can be blown. They know it. Which is why the odds are way beyond astronomical and somewhere bordering on insane that they will let it happen to them.
Sure, it may take a while, but New England can start getting used to the idea of a winter totally bereft of discontent.
This, finally, is the Red Sox' year. And Martinez got the honor of all but deciding the issue as he got 15 outs on the last 14 batters he faced. Only one of those last 14 men got the ball out of the infield as the combination of a 92-mph Martinez fastball and a 78-mph change-up kept the anxious Cardinals off balance all night. Fittingly, Martinez ended his night striking out the last two men he faced, Jim Edmonds and Reggie Sanders.
What about the eighth inning? Pedro never pitched it, just as he never should have last year for the American League pennant. A fresh and excellent Boston bullpen was summoned and did its job, just as it probably would have 12 months ago. Though we'll never know.
Few Series games have presented as simple, yet dramatic a confrontation as this match between a desperate Cardinals team facing a must win and Boston's Martinez, who, after many years as one of the best pitchers who ever lived, has turned into a merely mortal fellow with a 3.90 ERA and 26 gopher balls.
This month has especially pained the proud Martinez, whose record in his previous six Red Sox season was (this is not a misprint) 101-28 with ERA's in the previous five years that ranged between a sublime 2.39 and an almost superhuman 1.74.
Martinez's win on this night came from equal measures of help from his mates and the help of the suddenly screwball Cards.
The Red Sox immediately began to pound the Cards' Jeff Suppan, whom they know well after watching him start 11 games for Boston last season. In his 4 2/3 innings, Suppan allowed four runs on eight hits, but three other outs looked like extra-base hits when they left the bat. And every Boston hit was a rocket. Manny Ramirez homered in the first inning on a pitch at his shoulders, then drove in another with an RBI single in the fifth on an 0-2 pitch at his shoetops. Manny is a maniac of a hitter, but is it possible the Red Sox can read some of Suppan's pitches?
More important, however, than the Red Sox' hitting support was the incredibly incompetent base running of the Cardinals and the work of their third-base coach, Jose Oquendo. Twice in the first three innings, the Cards had Martinez in trouble, but gave him incredible gift double plays to defuse their own rallies and demoralize their already dismal spirits.
In the first inning with the bases loaded and one out, Jim Edmonds flied out to fairly short left field. Ramirez is an outfielder of mixed parts, to say the least. He can make dazzling fence-climbing catches or butcher the simplest flies or grounders, as he did in Game 1. But, for a left fielder, Ramirez has an above-average arm and loves to be challenged. Once upon a time, Larry Walker, 37, was fast for a big man. Now, he's just a big man. Ramirez's one-hop throw was accurate but not exceptional. Walker was out by a stunning 10 feet to end the inning. Why not just hold a Pedro Martinez Charity Benefit Night at Busch Stadium?
Pedro, backing up the play, casually strolled up to Walker, his old teammate in Montreal years ago, and patted him on the rear end with his glove as he pulled himself up out of the dust. Was it bravado or commiseration? With Pedro, who knows? But it added just that touch of mystery and the unexpected that accompanies the greatest players who have a marvelous presence. Walker didn't take offense. It was Pedro Martinez doing the patting. And he can do whatever he wants on a baseball field.
The second Cardinals catastrophe, however, may have been the play that took the life out of a 105-win team. To open the third, the Cards got a break -- similar to the eight egregious Red Sox errors in two games in Boston. This time, Suppan beat out a swinging dribbler down the third-base line to lead off the inning. Edgar Renteria clubbed what would usually have been a triple to right-center but the slow Suppan stopped at third. But what's the difference? With men on second and third with nobody out and the four mightiest Cards hitters due up, the only question was, "How many runs will the Cards score?"
With the infield back, conceding a run, Walker grounded out routinely to second base. Any base runner on earth, even the worst, could have trotted home. Especially since Red Sox first baseman David Ortiz, normally a designated hitter, took the throw at first base casually, expecting no further developments. Suppan, however, is not just any base runner. He is now officially the worst on earth. Somehow, he stood frozen exactly midway between third base and home as if hoping to disappear or praying that Ortiz would not notice him. But, eventually, Ortiz observed that there was an extra person in a strange place.
So, Ortiz ran him back toward third, flipped the ball to Bill Mueller, who tagged out the crawling, stumbling and mortified Supine Suppan. A mediocre pitcher would be inspired by such a gift of a gaffe. But Martinez suddenly became magnificent. Starting with the bizarre 4-3-5 double play on Walker, he got those final 15 outs in the space of 14 batters.
And now the countdown can begin. It's not if, it's now simply a matter of when the Red Sox will end their eons of pain.