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BOB RYAN

Ace was good enough when it counted

Welcome to "Another Night With Pedro," or, as we like to say around the ballpark, "The Good, The Bad, The In-Between."

Pedro Martinez pitched poorly enough to lose last night. He also pitched well enough to win, which is what he did, thanks mainly to a fifth-inning David Ortiz grand slam that was altitudinous enough to have threatened every catwalk in every domed stadium in America. The ball was hit so high that J-Lo would have had enough time to dump Marc Anthony, get reengaged to Ben Affleck, break up with him a second time, and join the convent. And Ortiz was still rounding third.

That granny rescued Martinez from a 4-2 deficit, and he took it from there. He had already escaped a fifth-inning jam (two runs in, men on second and third and one out), and now he needed to extricate himself from another mess after Bret Boone and John Olerud opened the Seattle sixth with singles. His response was to strike out Rich Aurilia and pinch hitter Dave Hansen then retire Randy Winn, who had reached him for doubles his first two at-bats, on a grounder to short. Now that was the Pedro we've all come to know and revere.

"Pedro, to me, had the whole game summed up in the fifth and sixth innings," declared Sox manager Terry Francona. "If they go up, 6-1, that makes it tough."

It was vintage Pedro, all right, but the fact is he was down, 4-1, and he had given up homers to Boone and Aurilia, as well as those two doubles by Winn. But just when you were worrying that he was turning into a third starter right before our eyes, he did some fancy pitching. So who, or what, is he right now?

"I'm a little disappointed in the way I'm pitching right now," he acknowledged. "That's not the way I want to pitch. Normally, I give my team a chance to get the first runs. Lately, that's not the case."

Right now Pedro is 5-3, with a 3.82 ERA. You no longer have the comforting feeling that everything is going to be all right because Pedro is on the mound. You simply don't know what to expect -- yet. I say "yet" because I have too much respect for him and he insists it won't be long before he's the Pedro we remember.

"It's not too far away," he said. "I'll be clicking. You can tell by the strikeouts. They're going up and up and up."

He did fan nine last night, and he often did it with some high heat. They weren't the 97- and 98-mile-per-hour heaters of five years ago, but they were plenty good enough.

"The velocity was up the last couple of hitters," Francona said. "But I really don't think the radar reading tells the story. The hitters do."

It's all a giant tease these days. Pedro retired the first four guys, lickety-split. Then he left one in Boone's wheelhouse and the Seattle second baseman didn't miss it. He gave up a second run in the third when Winn doubled, moved to third on an infield out, and scored on a Scott Spiezio sacrifice fly. There was nothing cheesy about it. Seattle got two more in the fifth when Aurilia hit his first homer of the season into the Monster seats, Winn doubled, and Ichiro Suzuki brought him home with a single. When Pedro hit Spiezio with a pitch, and the runners worked a double steal, the Mariners had those men in scoring position with one out.

And then Pedro became a different person.

Jason Varitek made an advance toward the mound, but Pedro stared him back.

"It was a look that told a thousand words," Varitek explained. Pedro then fanned Edgar Martinez and retired Raul Ibanez on a foul pop to third.

"He just started to be more aggressive," Varitek said.

"I wasn't doing my job," Pedro said. "I had to reach back and do it on my own."

Pedro followed that up with his little escape job and then breezed through a 1-2-3 seventh. His work was done.

He knows how lucky he was. The Mariners had never beaten him, period (12-0), and last night could easily have ended that streak. If it weren't for the big Ortiz hit, they would have finally conquered their ultimate nemesis.

What choice do we have but to cut this guy a lot of slack? We know he's not the pitcher he once was, and so does he. But he still has a lot to work with, and he is as smart as any pitcher in baseball. There really is nothing else we can do but trust that he is being honest with both himself and us, that when he says he will soon start putting full games together it's the gospel truth.

Like there's an alternative?

Bob Ryan is a Globe columnist. His e-mail address is ryan@globe.com.

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