Friday, October 30, 2009

Pedro the Great

Yes, he was the losing pitcher Thursday night. But it was fascinating to watch Pedro Martinez pick apart the vaunted Yankees lineup with an 88-mph fastball — and his change, and guile, and an occasional curve.

His place in baseball history is secure. As imposing as Johan Santana's run in the middle part of this decade was for the Twins, Martinez' run with Boston at the turn of the century was far superior. In a six-year span (beginning with 1997, his last season with Montreal — after which he was traded for a package headed by Carl Pavano) Martinez finished first in the Cy Young voting three times, second twice.

He racked up — in the height of the steroid era, in Fenway Park no less — ERAs of 2.07, 1.74, 2.39 (injury year), 2.26 and 2.22.

His peak velocity Thursday was about 10 mph lower than it was in his prime, but he has the great change and the command and the sheer pitching intelligence to make it work. He is one of those pitchers who can win with nothing as long as he is physically able to take the mound.

One of the runs scored off him came on a fly ball that would have been an out in any other current park; another was set up by a base hit off the end of the bat.

He is this era's Dizzy Dean, with a career shaped differently by the game's changing environment. Dean had a brilliant career cut short because he was used too hard; Pedro has survived injury after injury in part because his managers seldom pushed him to his limits. (Martinez has never pitched even 250 innings in a season.)

There is another parallel. In 1938, the Cubs picked up Dean for their stretch run, knowing he was injured, knowing his fast ball was gone. Ol' Diz went 7-1 with a 1.81 ERA for the Cubbies and helped them sneak into the World Series.

Where he started Game 2. Against the Yankees of Joe DiMaggio, Lou Gehrig and Bill Dickey. And held a one-run lead (3-2) into the eighth inning, working with his change, his command, his pitching intelligence, before it all fell apart on him. Teams didn't have specialty bullpens in the late 30s; Dean was expected to go the distance. He lost 6-3.

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