Commentary

A game for the ages for an 'old goat'

Pedro Martinez was brilliant for seven innings in NLCS Game 2 loss to L.A.

Originally Published: October 16, 2009
By Jorge Arangure Jr. | ESPN The Magazine

LOS ANGELES -- In one corner of the visiting clubhouse at Dodger Stadium, Pedro Martinez meticulously packed his toiletries into a Versace Dopp kit that he had placed onto to his lap. Sheepishly, Dominican Phillies rookie Antonio Bastardo approached Martinez who had been recounting -- with teammates, reporters, clubhouse attendants -- his seven shutout innings Friday against the Dodgers in Game 2 of the NLCS, a game he said likely would remain in his fondest memories for the rest of his life.

"Pedro," Bastardo quietly said. "It was an honor watching you pitch today."

Martinez grinned.

"Tomorrow," Martinez told Bastardo, "you and I will go into the outfield during batting practice and we will talk. I have a few things to teach you."

For 17 seasons, Martinez has been teaching the baseball world never to discount him. On Friday afternoon, he showed it was possible for an old goat to have new tricks. With a fastball that did not top 92 mph, a curveball that danced in and out of the zone, and a changeup that kept hitters off balance, Martinez dominated the Dodgers, though he did not get a decision as Los Angeles came back against the Philadelphia bullpen in the Dodgers' 2-1 win.

"Only an old goat like me can pull that trick," Martinez said. "And only Charlie [Manuel] would trust an old goat like me."

Before the game, Manuel told Martinez that he would throw only -- at most -- 80-90 pitches because Martinez had not pitched since Sept. 30. But who knew Martinez would be so effective? Most memorable for Martinez was an at-bat in the fourth inning against Rafael Furcal in which he induced a groundout by throwing three consecutive changeups. Who would have thought the mighty Pedro would ever retire a batter without his power fastball?

But even he admits he's not the same pitcher he was even five years ago, when he pitched seven scoreless innings for the Boston Red Sox in Game 3 of the World Series against the St. Louis Cardinals, his last previous postseason appearance. That Pedro Martinez threw 95-97 mph and lived by intimidation. In that postseason, Martinez hit three Yankees in the ALCS, which caused an uproar as people wondered whether he was head-hunting. On Friday, Martinez struck Dodgers catcher Russell Martin with a pitch in the sixth and nobody even blinked.

"My fastball isn't like it used to be," Martinez said. "But 90-92 mph is good enough to get it by anybody if you're mixing pitches. Back in my day, whoever threw 90 mph was good enough to sign for a good bonus. Too bad I didn't throw 90 mph when I was signed."

[+] EnlargePedro Martinez
Jacob de Golish/Getty Images Pedro Martinez, who walked none, hit a batter and struck out three, averaged 12.4 pitches per inning.
Martinez, who allowed just two hits and walked none, had only two runners reach second base. He varied his pitches so much that he hit every speed on the gun from 75 to 92 mph. At one point, he even threw a curveball in the 50s.

Former teammate and friend Manny Ramirez, as he approached home plate during one at-bat, joked with catcher Carlos Ruiz, "You better not miss with location." Martinez rarely did, and certainly not against Ramirez, who was hitless in three at-bats against Martinez.

Although Martinez said he felt strong after his 87th pitch to end the seventh inning, Manuel opted to go to his bullpen. Martinez said he was not even approached by Manuel as to whether he could pitch the eighth.

"I was aware he was going to make a move," Martinez said. "I felt pretty fresh, and at the same time, there's that temptation of pushing it. But then again, it was 17 days off. I've never done that in my career. After 17 days off, seven innings was good enough."

It was not lost on Martinez that he was returning to the place where, in 1992, he made his debut with the Dodgers. During Thursday's Game 1 batting practice, Martinez said that while shagging fly balls, he often found himself reliving some of his early days as a Dodger. Martinez had not pitched in Dodger Stadium since June 6, 2006.

When he came in from the dugout after that batting practice, he was surprised at how little appreciation Dodger fans had for him. Many of them booed him. Then it struck him that perhaps many of the fans in the stands were not even aware that he had pitched for the Dodgers. After all, Martinez is an old goat. When he first arrived at Dodger Stadium this week, Martinez approached a clubhouse attendant and asked him his age. The young man was 19 years old.

"You were just a baby when I was making my first start here," Martinez told him.

Yet despite some of the fond memories Martinez had of Dodger Stadium, there were also some ugly memories he had about the Dodgers organization. The Dodgers were the ones who deemed him too small to pitch in the majors -- "That's a long story, you don't want to go there," Martinez said -- and traded him to the Montreal Expos. The Dodgers were the ones who did not re-sign Martinez's older brother Ramon -- who had once won 20 games for the Dodgers -- after the 1998 season, a blatant breach of loyalty in Martinez's mind. The Dodgers were the ones who called up Martinez's younger brother Jesus in September one year and did not use him in a single game. Jesus would never be called up in his career again and never pitched in the majors.

"How do you call someone up and not let them pitch in even one game," Martinez said.

Yet Martinez has outlasted them all, the ownership group (the O'Malley family) that did not fight for him, the GM (Fred Claire) who traded him and the player for whom he was traded (Delino DeShields).

"The Dodgers are responsible for a lot of things that [the Martinezes] should be having hard feelings about," Martinez said. "But really, there's no hard feelings."

From his duffel bag, Martinez pulled out a baseball signed by members of the 1991 Class A Bakersfield Dodgers, including Mike Piazza. A friend from Martinez's early Dodger years had given it to him this week. He remembered that the ball had been signed by the team shortly before Martinez had been called up to Double-A.

Martinez was so pleased with his performance that he could not get himself to think about negative things. Such a strong performance also stirred up more feelings about a comeback for next season.

"I'm considering coming back next year if I don't win the World Series," Martinez said. "I will have to ask my mom because I promised her that if I won the World Series this would be my last year."

As Martinez continued to pack his bag, Philadelphia pitcher Brett Myers sat near Martinez and began to talk about the game. It was not only the reporters and fans whom Martinez impressed. Myers asked Martinez how he had so much success despite throwing 5-6 mph less than he did in his prime. Martinez recounted that, as a young prospect, he often taxed his body a lot with a violent leg kick to produce velocity. Now he simply slows down his leg kick -- "It's so effortless now," he says -- which sacrifices velocity in favor of accuracy.

"Could you have gone another one?" Myers asked, wondering out loud whether Martinez could have pitched the eighth inning.

"Yes," Martinez said and paused for a few moments, "but it's been 17 days since I pitched. You don't know what is going to happen."

Jorge Arangure Jr. is a senior writer for ESPN The Magazine.