All bases covered in making case
NEW YORK -- After everything that happened over the winter, and everything that happened last October, and everything that's happened between these teams since 1920, it would be hard to script a better 10 days for the Red Sox. Citizens of Red Sox Nation -- and many were here over the weekend -- already are calculating the Sox' magic number and planning Yankee Elimination Day parties.
The perfect weekend had a perfect ending. Pedro "Maddux" Martinez was almost perfect in seven scoreless innings yesterday, and Yankee-wrecker Manny Ramirez hit a monstrous two-run homer, giving the Sox a 2-0 win, a three-game sweep in the Bronx, and six wins in seven games against the team with the $185 million payroll.
Where do we start? This was the weekend when the Nation overthrew the Empire on enemy soil. In the end, it didn't matter whom Terry Francona threw out there. He used all the bullpen guys Grady Little wouldn't use and all of them stuffed the hapless Yanks. He used an infield of David McCarty, Cesar Crespo, Pokey Reese, and Mark Bellhorn (compare them with the Yankee infield, which makes more than $53 million) and the Red Sox still won. Derek Jeter is 0 for 25 and was loudly booed in the eighth. Meanwhile, Roger Clemens has more RBIs than Bernie Williams (3-2). The Red Sox lead the Yankees by five games in the loss column. And we have yet to feel the tremors from Tampa, where Mt. Steinbrenner no doubt soon will erupt.
Best of all for Sox fans was the performance of Martinez, who gave up just four hits while striking out seven.
"Everybody's questioning him and worried about him, but you've got to believe in the man," said catcher Jason Varitek. "He knows what to do." Francona added, "I thought a lot of the early criticism was unfair. People judging him on spring training. With his track record, you just tell him to get ready for the season. Then when the bell rings, if he's still not in midseason form, you just keep giving him the ball."
On the heels of his strong outing in Toronto last week, Martinez now has back-to-back gems for the first time this year. He's taken his John Burkett stuff and molded it into Greg Maddux stuff. He established his fastball early, then froze the Yankees with a mixture of curveballs and changeups. He's now 3-1 with a 3.03 ERA and looking every bit the bookend ace to accompany Curt Schilling.
Martinez hasn't spoken to the media since spring training. He issued a statement through the Sox public relations department, saying, "Every win is important. There is no doubt these are the people we've been behind, so it's nice to take advantage of these opportunities against them. I'm feeling better. I'm starting to get my groove. I'm feeling stronger. You have to talk about the whole team. They played hard. It was up to me today to step up and give them a chance to win."
This was a critical test for the veteran righthander. It was his first appearance on the Yankee Stadium mound since he tired and couldn't hold a 5-2 lead in the eighth inning of the seventh game of the American League Championship Series. He escaped blameless from the debacle (Little forever will wear the goat horns), but the Bronx always will be a place where bad things happened to Pedro and his teammates. Entering the game, the Sox were 10-16 lifetime (including postseason) in Martinez's starts against the Yankees. Boston had lost nine of his last 13 starts against these guys and the Yankee telecasts are still littered with images of Pedro pointing to his temple and tossing Don Zimmer to the ground in ALCS Game 3.
He was loudly booed when he came in from the bullpen after warming up, and New York fans were ready to pounce if the Yankees broke out of their slump.
Not a chance. Martinez struck out Jeter to start the day and rolled downhill from there. He caught Jason Giambi looking in the second, and did the same to Gary Sheffield in the fourth. Hideki Matsui and Williams also took called third strikes. That's four quality Yankees standing with the bat on their shoulder for strike three. Not bad.
"Pedro is the man, what else can I say?" said Ramirez, who provided all the run support with a parabolic blast into the Red Sox bullpen in the fourth.
The Sox are keeping Martinez on a pitch count this year. Statistics prove that Martinez morphs from Koufax to Wasdin after pitch No. 105. Like everything else that happpened to the Red Sox this weekend, Martinez hit the magic 105 at the perfect moment yesterday. His 105th pitch resulted in an inning-ending grounder by Ruben Sierra. It enabled Pedro to leave the game on his own terms rather than be pulled in the middle of an inning.
With Sierra out and the inning over, Martinez went to the dugout and was immediately congratulated by Schilling. Then came a progression of teammates with handshakes and hugs. David Ortiz embraced his countryman for a good 10 seconds. The Sox led the Yankees at the end of seven in Yankee Stadium and there's no way Pedro was going back out to start the eighth. Not this time.
The Red Sox are rolling and the Yankees are reeling. Boston is winning without Nomar Garciaparra and Trot Nixon. The Yankees are losing with the highest payroll in the history of baseball. This is either the ultimate mind-blower, or maybe there's a chance that it really is the year. Either way, it would be hard for the Sox to make their case any better than they did over the last two weekends.
Dan Shaughnessy is a Globe columnist. His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.
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