Commentary

Martinez going on memory in Game 2

Pedro set to face the Dodgers, the team he made his debut with in 1992

Originally Published: October 15, 2009
By Eric Neel | ESPN.com

LOS ANGELES -- Pedro Martinez is no mere pitcher around these parts.

He isn't a 37-year-old right-hander looking for a last shot at glory. He isn't a surefire Hall of Famer with a dazzling postseason pedigree stepping to center stage one more time. And he isn't a free-agent Philly gamble that has paid off handsomely down the stretch.

He's a legend, like the one of Sleepy Hollow. He's a freakin' ghost. A specter. He's chains rattling in the attic and wicked whispers in your sleep. He's the lone rider of the apocalypse burning rubber on two-lane blacktop bound for Chavez Ravine.

When Martinez takes the mound as the Philadelphia Phillies' starting pitcher in Game 2 of the National League Championship Series on Friday afternoon, with the defending World Series champions up 1-0 after Thursday's victory in the opener, every fan in the greater Los Angeles area will fear him.

They'll worry that he's traveled across the country and through the years to make them feel all over again the pain that came when their club traded him away for Delino DeShields in 1993. They'll be sure that the deal that netted them three years' worth of a second baseman hovering just north of the Mendoza Line -- and more than a decade's worth of pining for the Cy Young trophies that might have been -- was just the beginning.

Pedro will be thinking about beginnings, too, but he swears it will be with warmth in his heart. Making his first postseason start in more than five years (his last was a Game 3 win for the Red Sox in the 2004 World Series against St. Louis), Martinez loves the way Friday's midday start sets up like a sun-kissed homecoming for him. He's coming full circle, back to the crucible of his great career, back to the city and ballpark where he was a wispy 21-year-old 10-game winner, back to the place and time when he was full of promise but not yet proven.

"It's going to be special, bringing back memories about my start here," he said Thursday afternoon in Los Angeles. "I was born in this place, and I hope this is not the last one that I pitch here, but if it is, it would be a great joy to actually do it in the same place I started."

His manager, Charlie Manuel, who might instead have tabbed rookie J.A. Happ in Game 2 (as he did instead of Martinez in the National League Division Series against the Colorado Rockies), likes the symmetry of it all, as well.

"I feel like this is good … this is where he started, this is a good ballpark for him," Manuel said. "He likes the moment."

And it will be a moment, charged with the pitcher's desire to do some fountain-of-youth magic and the crowd's wary feeling that the old man just might have it in him.

[+] EnlargePedro Martinez
Bernstein Associates/Getty Images Pedro Martinez debuted with the Dodgers in 1992. Now, all these years later, he faces them in Game 2 of the NLCS.

Will it be a game? Martinez hasn't pitched for the Phillies since Sept 30 against the Houston Astros, and he hasn't pitched well since going 130 pitches and eight innings in a 1-0 win over the New York Mets on Sept. 13. He tweaked a rib in that start.

"One of my ribs popped out swinging the bat. Everything on the right side stiffened up," he said Thursday.

He said he's bounced back well in the interim (Manuel liked the look of a simulated game Martinez threw recently) and of course he's conjured postseason greatness in the past. But what he's capable of now, no matter how good his feeling for this place may be, is an open question.

"We're asking him to give us anywhere from 75 to 95 pitches," Manuel said. "I think he can do that."

Martinez thinks the buzz in the room, and the chance to pitch a big postseason game, might help him overcome any warble in his mechanics or bark in his aging frame.

"Now I know I'm going to go into a game," he said. "The adrenaline of the game will probably help me out a little bit to regain command and concentration about the things that I have to do."

For his part, Dodgers manager Joe Torre has little doubt Martinez will pose a formidable threat.

"He's a package," Torre said Thursday with a wary lift of the eyebrows as he looked ahead to his club's facing Pedro. "He's a tough competitor … you don't try to beat Pedro. You just try to outlast him."

Survive and hope to advance. Pay respect. Keep a safe distance from the forces of darkness. Do nothing to anger the ghost.

Spoken like a long-time Angeleno.

Eric Neel is a senior writer for ESPN.com and ESPN The Magazine.

Eric Neel | email

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Eric Neel is a senior writer for ESPN.com and ESPN The Magazine.