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For Red Sox owners, Pedro Martinez still a stopper

Posted by Steve Silva, Boston.com Staff  January 25, 2013 10:24 AM

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During the height of his reign, Pedro Martinez did more than just win for the Red Sox. He protected them. He saved the bullpen. He ended losing streaks. And on those occasions when the game got nasty, Martinez threw at or near opposing hitters with purpose, often in defense of his teammates.

Years later, it seems, the Red Sox are still relying on him to do the same.

And so, on the same day Terry Francona breezed into the Westin Copley to be honored by the Boston Baseball Writers on Thursday night, Pedro Martinez unexpectedly turned up, too. Stunner of all stunners, Pedro showed up earlier than the manager. Red Sox owners and executives are taking hits on all sides thanks to the release of Francona's new book about his years with the Red Sox, and yet the focus on Thursday unexpectedly turned to Pedro, who emerged as the sports lead in Friday's editions of both the Boston Globe and the Boston Herald.

Well played, Larry.

Very, very well played.

Say this for the people who run the Red Sox: They are not dumb and they never have been. They place some things (business) ahead of others (baseball), but no one ever questioned their intelligence. Bringing in Martinez to overshadow Francona is a stroke of public relations genius, and we all know the Sox place an emphasis on public relations, on all-important Red Sox brand. For a day, at least, Pedro distracted everyone from the story at hand, namely Francona's distaste for the Red Sox hierarchy that smeared his departure from the organization.

"I think your owners suck," Francona joked with new Sox manager John Farrell during Thursday's media availability, a play-to-the-crowd remark that drew loud laughs.

It was funny, of course, because it was true.

By that point, Pedro already had spoken to the media and stolen the back page, so to speak, an even more amusing development considering that Martinez did not even attend Thursday night's dinner. Red Sox officials were relatively vague when asked what Martinez' role with the organization will be, but the truth is that Martinez was there to run interference and take the focus off the owner-bashing.

As it turned out, principal owner John Henry did not attend the dinner, at which Francona was the headliner. Neither did Tom Werner. Lucchinio, to his credit, attended the event and said he has not read Francona's book (co-authored by Globe columnist Dan Shaughnessy), taking a relatively high road rarely traveled by the Red Sox in the last 18 months or so.

Again, well played, Larry. Extending this feud only hurts the Red Sox. If the Red Sox wanted to continue slinging mud with Francona, they undoubtedly could. But Francona received a standing ovation from the attendees at Thursday's dinner and he will receive another when he returns as the manager of the Cleveland Indians this year, and Red Sox owners will only dig themselves deeper (if that is even possible) by continuing to joust with the most popular manager in Red Sox history.

You lost, fellas. Don't make it worse.

In that way, the presence of Martinez was a very good sign, an admission by Red Sox owners that they only way to fight Francona's popularity was with perhaps the most popular Red Sox player since ... who? During his time in Boston, Martinez had Hall-of-Fame skill and the personality to match. He was as dynamic off the field as on it. Martinez was, at once, generous, selfish, petulant, brilliant, foolish, loyal, stubborn, simple, complex. We are obsessed with him and always will be, and the people who run the Red Sox know it.

Which is why they brought him back.

And it is why they brought him back now.

By next week sometime, Francona's initial book tour will be complete. Soon thereafter, he and the Red Sox will be off to spring training. With the trade that sent Adrian Gonzalez, Josh Beckett, and Carl Crawford to the Los Angeles Dodgers last August, the Red Sox pulled the plug on a golden era that turned very bad, very quickly. They subsequently changed managers and started rebuilding their roster, protecting both their best minor league players and their draft picks. The release of Francona's book brought us all back to the tumultuous end of the 2011 season, of an organizational fracture defined by the dismissal of their manager.

So what did the Red Sox do? They brought in Pedro, a man forever connected to the earliest years of this ownership group, when the Red Sox ended an 86-year run without a championship.

In baseball, that is the definition of stopper.

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Updated: Mar 1, 07:24 AM

About Mazz

Tony Massarotti is a Globe sportswriter and has been writing about sports in Boston for the last 19 years. A lifelong Bostonian, Massarotti graduated from Waltham High School and Tufts University. He was voted the Massachusetts Sportswriter of the Year by his peers in 2000 and 2008 and has been a finalist for the award on several other occasions. This blog won a 2008 EPpy award for "Best Sports Blog".

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