Don't pin this loss on him
NEW YORK -- He brought this on himself; the mocking, the demeaning (albeit clever) signs, the pressure of finding himself enclosed in a ballpark brimming with 56,136 hostile fans clad in blue, fervently hoping he'd fall flat on his face.
That did not happen to Pedro Martinez last night at Yankee Stadium. He is too proud and too stubborn and too good for that. He did not wilt under the extra scrutiny he heaped on himself Sept. 24, when New York got the better of him in a 6-4 loss, and he uttered the now famous words, "I just have to tip my hat to the Yankees and call them my daddy."
In one of the more highly anticipated postseason performances in years, Martinez pitched a very good game last night -- but not good enough. There were snippets when his fastball ripped across the plate, clocked at 95 miles per hour, and he looked dominant -- but not quite dominant enough.
He deserved better, but that's become a tired old refrain against the Yankees. The Red Sox are now 11-20 in games in which Martinez pitches against the Yankees.
Some of those losses have been truly demoralizing. In his previous two outings against New York, Martinez had been 0-2 with a horrific 9.49 ERA.
It wasn't at all like that last night. He battled through a nerve-racking first inning that began with six straight balls, and gave up just one run through 5 1/3 innings. He struck out seven batters and kept his team in the game, just as he promised he would. But, when those hostile fans finally filed out of the Stadium -- still chanting "Who's your daddy?" -- Martinez had long departed before them, with nothing but another frustrating loss against his nemesis.
If that isn't sobering enough, consider the Red Sox have delivered their 1-2 punch in Curt Schilling and Pedro, and have nothing but an 0-2 deficit to show for it.
Don't blame the pitcher for this loss. Pedro's teammates were unable to solve the offerings of Jon Lieber, who held the Red Sox to one base hit through six innings, and at one juncture retired 13 Boston hitters in a row. Manager Terry Francona dismissed any talk that Martinez had not done his job.
"He was in line for an outstanding outing," said Francona. "We just didn't put anything up on the board. If we had put up five or six runs and won the game, we'd all be talking about how well he pitched."
It doesn't work that way when the L is posted and your team finds itself in trouble as it returns home to Fenway. Asked how he felt about the reception he received from those rabid Yankee fans, Martinez smiled, then served up an answer that was both eloquent and surprising.
"It actually made me feel really, really good," Martinez said. "I actually realized that I felt like somebody important, because I caught the attention of 60,000, plus you guys, plus the whole world, watching a guy that is, you reverse the time back 15 years ago, I was sitting under a mango tree without 50 cents to pay for a bus. And today, I was the center of attention of the whole city of New York. I thank God for that, and you know what? I don't regret one bit what they do out there.
"I respect them, and actually I kind of like it because I don't like to brag about myself, I don't like to talk about myself, but they did make me feel important.
"I've seen a lot of teams pass by and play against this team, the Yankees, and maybe because I'm with the Red Sox I feel so thankful I got their attention, and they got my attention."
Martinez's biggest miscue during his emotional performance came in the sixth, with his team still down, 1-0. With one out and one on, Pedro got ahead of veteran John Olerud with an 0-2 count before trying to throw a fastball away that tailed instead.
"I didn't release it well," Martinez said. "He took full advantage of it. I have to say it was my fault."
Pedro would not bear the full responsibility, however, of his team's futility against the pinstripes with him on the mound.
"I can't do anything if we can't score any runs," he said. "I can pitch and do whatever I can to keep my team in the game. When I get support? I don't know. I'm not asking."
Francona pulled Martinez at the end of the sixth, after he had thrown 113 pitches. Pedro said he could have gone longer, but said with the status of the injured Schilling murky at best, he surmised the Red Sox may have been keeping him fresh to come back and pitch on "short rest." Asked if anyone had discussed the possibility with him, Pedro answered, "At this stage I don't need anyone to tell me whether they want me to pitch on short rest or not. I just see the need in my team and if it's up to me, I will pitch on short rest to pick up Schill. He's won it all year for us and if he has to go down, I'll stand up and I'll pitch on short rest and I'll go to the bullpen. I'll do anything to try and get a win."
Last night, that included standing up and facing his own words, and the uproar they caused. He can live with what happened last night at Yankee Stadium, even with the defeat in tow.
"You know what, even if tomorrow they are going to say, Pedro lost, Pedro won, I had an opportunity to show everybody that I believe in God," he said. "The chanting about whether `Who's your daddy?' My biggest daddy is the one that put me out there and the one that brought me over from the mango tree to the biggest stage in the world."
If only that stage could be more forgiving to its featured performer, and the team whose uniform he wears.
Jackie MacMullan is a Globe columnist. Her e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.