A Fond Farewell?

It’s a comforting thing having a 2-0 lead in the World Series with Pedro Martinez on the mound for Game 3. I know he’s not the same Pedro Martinez he used to be. I know he had the highest ERA of his career this season. I know that coming into this game, he was 1-5 with a 6.65 ERA, 44 strikeouts, 22 walks and eight homers in 43 1/3 innings since Sept. 14. I know all of this.

But I look at Pedro Martinez and I remember the man who pitched six hitless innings with a bad back against the Cleveland Indians in 1999. I remember the man who followed that up by striking out 12 Yankees in seven scoreless innings in Game 3 of the ALCS. I remember the man who struck out 17 Yankees on Sept. 10, 1999. I remember the man who hit Gerald Williams leading off the bottom of the first inning against Tampa Bay in 2000, and then retired 24 consecutive Devil Rays before John Flaherty singled to lead off the ninth. I remember the man who reached back for that vintage stuff in a 2002 start against Toronto and struck out 14 Blue Jays in eight innings. I remember the man who pitched seven scoreless innings against the Yankees in April to finish a sweep at Yankee Stadium.

I remembered that man and knew that if he showed up, the Red Sox would be a game away from winning the World Series. While the Red Sox showed that a 3-0 deficit is not a death sentence, it’s still not a desirable position nor one you can expect to come back from. And if that man didn’t show up, and the Red Sox offense couldn’t bail him out, well they’d still be up 2-1 and that’s still a fine situation to be in.

At first, it looked like that Pedro — whatever’s left of him — wouldn’t show up. He loaded the bases on an infield single and two walks with one out in the first inning, but got saved when Jim Edmonds lifted a fly ball to very shallow left field and the Cardinals decided to test Manny Ramirez’s suspect defense. Ramirez made the catch and threw a strike to home plate to get Larry Walker for the double play.

After an easy second inning, Pedro got in trouble again in the third when Jeff Suppan reached on another infield single and Edgar Renteria doubled. As you’ve probably heard, Walker grounded out to second as the Red Sox were conceding the tying run, and Suppan somehow got caught off third base as he tried to decide whether to go home or not and David Ortiz threw him out.

And that was the end of the night for the Cardinals. They weren’t out of the game on the scoreboard, but Pedro never gave them another chance. Albert Pujols grounded out to third to end the inning with St. Louis still trailing. Scott Rolen grounded out to third, Edmonds flied out to center and Reggie Sanders struck out for a 1-2-3 fourth. Tony Womack struck out and Mike Matheny and Marlon Anderson both popped out in a 1-2-3 fifth. Renteria grounded out, Walker lined out and Pujols struck out in a 1-2-3 sixth. And finally Rolen grounded out before Pedro struck out Edmonds and Sanders to end his night by retiring 14 consecutive Cardinals.

If that was the last start Pedro ever makes for the Boston Red Sox, it will have a special place in my memory forever. He escaped some sticky situations in the first three innings, and then he was the man I remembered for four glorious innings. Four innings in which he struck out five batters and did not allow anybody to reach base.

Aside from Pedro’s dazzling performance, there are a few other things I wanted to touch on in no particular order …

  • I didn’t understand at all why people were making a big deal out of Ortiz having to play first base in these games in St. Louis. It’s not like the Red Sox had to take Keith Hernandez out of the lineup and replace him at first base with Edgar Martinez. They were taking out Kevin Millar and replacing him with somebody who has in fact played the position a bit this year.

    Is Millar a better fielder than Ortiz? Yes. A much better fielder? I don’t think so. Is Ortiz a better hitter than Millar? Yes. A much better hitter? Yes. So, what’s the problem? In fact, it should be noted that Ortiz was accurate on the same play — a throw to third base, although a different circumstance — on which Millar was wild and allowed an extra run to score in Game 1.

    It certainly wouldn’t surprise me if Ortiz screws up a play at first tonight in Game 4. But all you need to know about whether it’s really a disadvantage to not have Millar out there in the field is that Millar himself comes out in the sixth or seventh inning for a defensive replacement most of the time when the Red Sox are leading. So, how good could he be that there’s a huge drop-off from him to Ortiz?

  • This series has an interesting dynamic in that it’s a 3-0 advantage for one team, but people are being careful about saying that it’s completely over because the team leading just overcame a 3-0 deficit in its previous series. And there are some parallels between the two situations. Neither team looked like it was completely outmatched heading into the series. Both teams were completely outplayed in the first three games. Both teams allowed the other team to score in the first inning of all three games. Both teams rallied before losing Game 1 and then went quietly in Game 2. Both teams saw hitters they had relied on completely disappear for the first three games.

    I could probably go on and on, but there’s one, I guess you would say it’s a stat, that I really like. In the first three games of their series against the Yankees, the Red Sox only led once, after the second inning of Game 3. Beyond that, there were only even tied at the end of an inning once, after the third inning of Game 3.

    In the first three games of their series against the Red Sox, the Cardinals have yet to lead a game. Beyond that, however, they’ve trailed at the end of every inning in the series but one. I’ve already mentioned that they’ve fallen behind in the first inning of every game, but they rallied to tie Game 1 7-7 in the top of the sixth and held the Red Sox scoreless in the bottom of the inning before the Red Sox regained the lead in the bottom of the seventh.

    St. Louis tied that game again, 9-9, in the top of the eighth, but Boston took the lead right back in the bottom of the inning. So the sixth inning of Game 1 is the only time this series an inning has ended with St. Louis even. At the end of each of the other 26 innings in this series so far, the Cardinals have been trailing. That seems pretty amazing to me.

  • On my way home from work last night, I was listening to talk radio and a caller said that good pitching always beats good hitting and that’s why the Red Sox are doing well this postseason. Now, the Red Sox have had some fine pitching performances in these playoffs, so don’t get me wrong. But they’ve allowed 69 runs in 13 games, which works out to 5.3 per game. How that’s good pitching escapes me somehow. Even if you take out that 19-8 horror show, the Red Sox have allowed 4.2 runs per game, which is pretty good, but certainly not dominant.

    No, the Red Sox are winning in this postseason because of their offense, just as you probably would have expected. The Red Sox have scored 87 runs in 13 games (6.7 per game) and have only been held to fewer than four runs once in these playoffs. They’ve scored at least seven runs seven times in 13 games. In the playoffs, when pitching is supposed to dominate. Quite simply, the Boston offense has been lethal.

    It’s for that reason that I can’t understand why everybody’s saying the Yankees need better starting pitching if they’re going to end their four-year world championship drought. How do they need anything when they were one Mariano Rivera inning away from advancing to the World Series in a sweep, a situation they would have signed up for without asking any questions back in February? How is it they needed another starting pitcher, especially?

    Mike Mussina was perfect for six innings in Game 1 before fading, and the Yankees won that game so there’s no problem there. Jon Lieber was fantastic in Game 2 and the Yankees won, so no problem there either. Orlando Hernandez only lasted five innings in Game 4, but the Yankees led 4-3 before Rivera failed to close a deal he’s closed countless times before, so I don’t see how you can blame the starter there. Mussina allowed just two runs in six innings in Game 5 and the Yankees led 4-2 before Tom Gordon set Rivera up to fail again, so I’m not sure where the starter’s at fault there either. Lieber did allow four runs in Game 6, but he did give the Yankees 7 1/3 innings and Curt Schilling was just amazing with just one run in seven innings, so I don’t exactly understand blaming the starter in that game.

    I’ve obviously left out two games in the above paragraph, and both were atrocious. Kevin Brown was terrible in Game 3, but all the pitchers the Red Sox used were even worse, so it didn’t matter as the Yankees won anyway. Brown was atrocious again in Game 7, but the Yankees could only manage one run off Derek Lowe in Game 7, so unless you’re putting a lot of stock in the Yankee hitters giving up because they were losing, I’m not sure how big a difference it would have made if Brown had allowed three runs in seven innings.

    Yes, the Yankees lost four games in a row to the Red Sox. So what? The Red Sox have a very good team. They swept the Angels and they’ve won their first three games against the 105-win Cardinals, so why is it so hard to believe that a perfectly good Yankees team could lose four in a row to them? Heck, the Yankees had already lost four in a row to the Red Sox once this year, and that was back when Brown and Javier Vazquez were both pitching well.

    A Hardball Times Update
    Goodbye for now.

    I know Yankees fans want to find some fatal flaw to blame the ALCS on, but I just don’t think it’s there. There were two very good teams in the ALCS. One team won three games in a row, the other won four games in a row and there were a lot of things contributing to both streaks.

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