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BOB RYAN

Show-me state for Martinez

ST. LOUIS -- Pedro wasn't talking. The inference is that he would have his arm do all the talking necessary tonight.

That's fine. Pedro Martinez has a lot on his mind these days.

It's Game 3 of the World Series, and were Martinez to come up big, and I mean muy grande, the Red Sox would be one game away from changing the essential eight-decade discourse of Boston baseball. And, not to be crass, but he's also pitching for a contract in what could be his final appearance in a Boston uniform. Why deny it? But, as per his custom prior to his three previous postseason starts, he has elected to keep his thoughts to himself.

Pedro is no longer the Pedro of legend. His athletic mortality has been clear during the 20 innings he has pitched in the 2004 playoffs. The Pedro of legend would not have given up 20 hits and 12 earned runs in those 20 innings, and he surely would not have walked 11 batters. As a starter, he has a win, a loss, and a no-decision, and he also had that curious inning of work in Yankee Game 7, a 20-pitch effort that arched eyebrows around the globe (no exaggeration). Few people are buying Terry Francona's story, which was that they needed someone to pitch the seventh inning and Pedro was the only candidate, especially since by so doing Francona was removing Pedro from the mix as the Game 1 starter against the Cardinals. The suspicious among us have chosen to believe that Pedro pitched because Pedro wanted to pitch.

As Chuck Daly would say, whatever . . .

The future will sort itself out. The relevant time frame is the present, and the relevant question is, just what can management, his manager, his teammates, the media, and the entirety of Red Sox Nation expect from the 2004 autumn Pedro Martinez, who has won just once in his last seven starts?

"I would think that, this being his first time in a World Series, he would embrace the moment," maintained pitching coach Dave Wallace, who goes back farther with Pedro than anyone in the Red Sox organization. Wallace is our resident Pedro-ologist.

Wallace knew, for example, the pre-Pedro Pedro, before he had acquired one-name status. Wallace knew, as he puts it, "a 17-year-old kid in a sugar-cane field in the Dominican Republic," as opposed to the 33-year-old (as of yesterday) man he has become. When Wallace, then in the employ of the Dodgers, first encountered Pedro, the lad was better known as "Ramon's little brother."

Whatever his private thoughts about the current quality of Pedro's repertoire, Wallace continues to believe in Pedro's competitiveness. Wallace expects Pedro to pitch well tonight.

Jason Varitek makes two. Don't bother citing the recent statistics to his catcher. Varitek believes he'll be catching a very good pitcher tonight.

"He has taken the ball for us every fifth day the entire season," Varitek pointed out. "And about 99 percent of the time he has given us a quality start that has given us a chance to win the ballgame."

Now, it's true that Pedro has not missed a start all season. It's also true that it was his least impressive full season while wearing a Red Sox uniform. He threw 217 innings, going 16-9 with a career-high 3.90 ERA. He struck out 227 and walked 61. It was a year that most pitchers would have been thrilled to have on their resumes.

In 2000, he also threw precisely 217 innings. But look what he did with them: An 18-6 record, a league-leading 1.74 ERA, a league-leading 284 strikeouts and a laughable 32 walks. He won his third Cy Young Award. That's when Pedro was Pedro. If that Pedro were taking the mound tonight, who among us would not expect this series to be 3-0 tomorrow morning?

On some occasions during this postseason, Pedro has looked like that Pedro. "You see spurts," said Gabe Kapler. "He'll do something, and you'll say, `Oh my God. How did he do that to that batter?' "

But on many other occasions during this postseason, he has labored while trying to hit the spots he once drilled in effortless fashion. Pitch counts have become an issue by the third or fourth inning. He has averaged 18 pitches per inning. That's a 162-pitch nine-inning projection, not that he ever would be allowed to go remotely near that figure. The numbers don't lie. Nowadays, Pedro has to do whatever it is he's going to do in approximately 100 pitches. He is, at best, a seven-inning pitcher.

When the season is over, we will see what the market is for a 100-pitch, 33-year-old pitcher. No one, except Pedro, of course, is worrying about that right now. The Red Sox are interested only in what he can do for them tonight.

One theory is that he will benefit by facing someone other than the Yankees, and the American League in general. "He's been going against teams he's made 20 or more starts against the last three years," pointed out Varitek. "And he still made quality starts."

Another juicier theory is that among the things he will be pitching for tonight is his self-esteem. After being The Mound King of Boston for seven years, he is now merely the Prince to the monarch that is Curt Schilling. Pedro very well could be in "anything-you-can-do-I-can-do-better" mode. Tonight, the spotlight will be back on him.

"He has the opportunity now to propel himself back on the tip of everyone's tongue," reasoned Kapler. "All it takes is one game."

One game to out-Curt Curt. One game to say goodbye. One game to say, "Pay me." One game to show off for his countrymen watching on TV down in the Dominican. One game to have people back home chanting "Pe-dro!" in the living rooms and bars of New England. One game to remind everyone that he still can pitch as well as anyone in the world. One game to put the Boston Red Sox up, 3-0.

"I believe in the man," said Varitek. "I believe in the man that's taking the ball."

This is not just another World Series game. This is high athletic drama.

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

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