Pedro reigns supreme with an electric outing
Rampant unrest in the Nation. A 25-25 record since May Day. Three consecutive series losses. Sitting second in the American League East, nearer to Tampa Bay than New York. The prospect of falling a season-high six games behind the Yankees. Terry Francona getting roasted like a Fenway Frank on the Fourth of July.
It is times like these when a team calls upon its ace. This is when the guy who is making $17.5 million needs to deliver the goods.
Pedro Martinez responded last night with seven innings of two-hit pitching in a 12-1 rout of the Philadelphia Phillies (a game that was called at 10:24 after a 49-minute rain delay in the bottom of the eighth). He struck out only two, but was in command throughout, throwing 66 of his 99 pitches for strikes.
"Everybody was pretty confident that I would be the stopper today," said Martinez (8-3, 3.73 ERA). "They're pretty relaxed. We're not worried about it. I'm pretty sure now we're probably going to play better."
Martinez was not alone in this emotional rescue of Red Sox fans. Just as Batman had Robin against the Joker, and Butch had Sundance against the Bolivian army, Pedro had Manny riding sidecar against the Phillies. Ramirez hit a homer, knocked in five runs, and caught eight fly balls, including a diving stab of a Mike Lieberthal sinking liner to end the top of the seventh. It was 10-1 by then and the catch inspired the Sox bench and the sellout crowd. Pedro and Manny came off the diamond smiling and saluting one another with the joy of Little Leaguers. Manny was summoned for a curtain call.
"Dewey [Dwight Evans] is probably having nightmares," laughed Pedro. "He's about to lose his Gold Glove. That was one of the best catches I've seen. We have our rituals and I congratuated Manny and gave him a high-five."
Don't let the final score fool you. This was still a 2-0 game when the Sox came up in the sixth, and it looked as though Boston might need Martinez to go the distance. He had a one-hitter through six and his hair seemed to be getting bigger every inning.
It figured to be a strong night for Pedro. The Sox ace grows hair on his palms at the mere sight of Phillies pitching coach Joe Kerrigan. Martinez always bristled when the Nutty Professor got credit for Pedro's performances in both Montreal and Boston. They had a celebrated spat at the end of the 2001 season when the Sox unraveled under the leadership of Kerrigan, and fans can expect to see Pedro's best when he goes against his former pitching coach.
It started to sprinkle lightly in the second inning -- no small development considering this was one of Pedro's coveted starts. The Sox take great pains not to begin any home game Pedro starts when there is a threat of rain. On May 28 against Seattle, the Sox covered the field and waited almost an hour and a half before starting the game -- even though it never rained. The idea is to avoid playing a couple of innings, then covering the field during a lengthy rain delay and losing fragile Pedro for the entire night, and an entire rotation.
Martinez set down the first seven Phillies -- four on fly balls to Ramirez in left. Chase Utley was the only strikeout victim, swinging and missing at a 78-mile-per-hour changeup to end the second. With one out in the third, Pedro hit Lieberthal with an 0-and-2 pitch, but got out of the inning without giving up a hit. He threw only 36 pitches in the first three (hitless) innings.
"I've been struggling most of the year in the early part of the game," said Pedro. "For San Francisco to jump on me [last Saturday], that really caught my attention . . . Tonight I approached my warmup like it was the game. I wanted to change something."
Philadelphia second baseman Placido Polanco, who is not one of the Three Tenors, had the first hit -- a first-pitch single to right in the fourth. The Phillies didn't get another batter on base until David Bell worked Pedro for a one-out walk in the fifth. No problem. At the end of five, Pedro had a one-hitter, a 2-0 lead, and had thrown only 66 pitches. It felt like the old days, back when Kerrigan was pitching coach.
He needed only 11 pitches to get the Phillies 1-2-3 in the sixth. After the Sox broke it open with an eight-run jailbreak in the bottom of the inning, Pedro finally gave up a run. He went to the mound for the top of the seventh with a 10-0 lead and Jim Thome crushed the second pitch of the inning for a home run to left. It was the 12th homer off Martinez this year (he yielded only seven in 2003). Thome's shot erased any chance for Pedro's first nine-inning shutout since August 2000 (98 starts).
Showing more rust from the long home half of the sixth (the Sox' biggest offensive outburst of the season), Pedro walked Pat Burrell after the Thome homer. But that just set up Manny's diving, tumbling catch that ended the top of the seventh and sent Pedro to the showers with a smile on his face and his eighth win in the bag.
But he had to wait. With one out and a 2-and-0 count on Cesar Crespo, and the Sox leading, 12-1, in the eighth, umpiring crew chief Rick Reed ordered the tarp rolled onto the field as rain came down and lightning lit the sky beyond the Wall. By then, nobody wanted to play anymore and Phillies manager Larry Bowa certainly would have been happy to call it a night. There had been too much Manny, too much Pedro, and the Sox were back to within five games of the Yankees.
Dan Shaughnessy is a Globe columnist. His e-mail address is email@example.com.