It's not often that a man with three Cy Young Awards, 182 major league wins, 2,653 lifetime strikeouts, and a career winning percentage of .705 finds himself in the position of having to prove himself, but perhaps as much as any pitcher on the Red Sox' staff, Pedro Martinez was faced with just that at the beginning of the postseason.
Sure, Martinez answered the bell for each of his turns in the starting rotation during the regular season, but because of the team's hopes of preventing the slender Martinez from wearing down, he became primarily a six- or seven-inning pitcher, his pitch count rarely exceeding 115, resulting in just one complete game. Martinez responded with a 16-9 record but produced his highest ERA (3.90) in a Red Sox uniform.
And with the way he struggled down the stretch, dropping his last four decisions, allowing a combined 20 earned runs in 23 1/3 innings in the process, questions arose as to whether Martinez would be able to regain his form in the playoffs.
His lone start in the Division Series against the Angels, Game 2 in Anaheim, silenced some of the doubters, as Martinez allowed three runs in seven innings and was the beneficiary of an eight-run eruption by his teammates in earning the win.
"Well, to me, it's not anything really big," said Martinez. "It's a great feeling for the team to go home, where we play so well, ahead, 2-0. It's not any surprise for me, but I am really happy in the same way to go back to where I wanted to be, and no better moment to change the way I was doing things."
With the Angels dispatched in the first game back in Boston, thoughts then turned to Martinez's nemeses -- the Yankees -- whom he had not beaten since April 25 (a span of three starts, including two in September).
After the Yankees knocked around a hobbled Curt Schilling in Game 1 of the American League Championship Series, Martinez got the call in Game 2 at Yankee Stadium, and although he fared better (allowing all three runs in six innings), the result was the same, a Yankee win and a 2-0 series lead for New York.
"I did whatever possible to keep my team in the fight," said Martinez. "I can't say I'm disappointed, but those are not the results I wanted."
Martinez did, however, get the result he wanted his next time out, though he was long gone by the time the game was decided. Back on the mound in Game 5, Martinez went six innings and allowed four runs in a game won, 5-4, by the Sox on David Ortiz's RBI single in the 14th inning. It wasn't vintage Martinez, yet he did what was necessary -- keep the Sox in the game and give them a chance in the late innings. Two days later, the Sox completed their improbable comeback from an 0-3 series deficit, reaching the World Series for the first time in 18 years.
After an inning of mop-up duty in Game 7 against the Yankees, Martinez didn't get the ball until Game 3 of the World Series, by which time the Sox had taken two at Fenway.
Martinez had pitched fairly well up to that point in the postseason, yet still there were those who wondered how he would respond to the first World Series start of his career, against a Cardinals team that had been dominant at home all season. All Martinez did was provide one of the best performances of his storied career. There were no 98-mile-per-hour fastballs. Instead, he baffled the Cardinals with a spellbinding array of low-90s fastballs, cutters, and changeups, limiting one of the most potent lineups in baseball to three hits and no runs over seven innings as the Sox prevailed, 4-1, to take a three-game stranglehold on the Series.
"He's had some history now being pretty good," said manager Terry Francona. "This wasn't his first good game."
No, it wasn't his first good game, but he couldn't have picked a better time to rediscover good, old Pedro.
The next night, Martinez couldn't contain his smile in the dugout throughout Game 4, as if he already knew the outcome -- a Red Sox world championship.