PEDRO CITY, Mass. -- You might as well get used to it, because that is what this place is going to be 20-some times a year for the foreseeable future.
(Aside to whomever: Enough with the clam chowdah. Far better you stock up on the salsa. And send someone out for a few Tito Puente tapes while you’re at it. You might even think about running in some charters from Santo Domingo.)
What I’m trying to tell you is that baseball in Fenway Park will be a Latin-flavored Event whenever Pedro Martinez pitches. Yesterday’s 5-0, two-hit shutout of the Mariners will more than likely be just another day at the office for this big-time, showtime pitcher.
Understand that he came close to throwing a you-know-what (hint: We haven’t had one here since Dave Morehead threw one at the Indians on Sept. 16, 1965) before 32,403 newly initiated Pedromaniacs at Fenway Park. ``If [umpire John] Shulock had given him the outside corner,’’ mused John Valentin, ``he would have thrown a no-hitter.’’
That would have been wonderfully dramatic, of course, but by settling for a plain ol’ two-hitter he gives us something precious to look forward to in what I am going to assume will be the very near future. I mean, if ever a Red Sox pitcher has no-hit stuff, it’s this guy.
Martinez throws a fastball in the mid 90s and he has what pitching coach Joe Kerrigan describes as an ``above-average major league curveball.’’ But what separates him from just about everyone else on planet Earth is his third pitch, a delivery so outrageous in theory that I’ve already heard a rumor that the Batter’s Union is actively searching for a judge who will issue an injunction prohibiting its use in anything other than an exhibition game.
I am speaking, of course, about his changeup.
``His changeup?’’ said Valentin, rolling his eyes. ``You mean the changeup from hell?’’
Yup, John, the very same.
``I can’t think of anyone with his particular style,’’ says Dennis Eckersley, who in the course of a 23-year career has seen ‘em all from Astacio (Pedro) to Zahn (Geoff). ``He’s not methodical; that’s for sure. He’s aggressive. He’s even aggressive with his changeup, if you can believe that. The change is what makes him so nasty. And he’ll throw it even when he’s behind on the count.’’
``He throws it with such a quick arm speed,’’ marvels Kerrigan. ``You’ve got to think fastball when you see the release.’’
The occasion of the second home game is supposed to be Crash Day at Fenway. All the frauds and pols have gone back to wherever it is they come from, and the game is played before 15,000 or so who actually know the infield fly rule. And let’s not get carried away with this being proclaimed Kid’s Opening Day. The reason the park was jammed with people on this April Saturday was Pedro Martinez.
There hasn’t been anything like this multicultural atmosphere at Fenway since Luis Tiant pitched for the Sox. That was 20 years ago, amigo. Well, guess who was in the stands yesterday? El Tiante himself. And guess who else? That’s right, Hall of Famer Juan Marichal, the original Dominican Dandy. You think Pedro was pumped or what?
``It was a great feeling to have them here,’’ Martinez acknowledged. ``You stand out there and you know that the two best Latin American pitchers ever are supporting you. You don’t want to let them down. You feel you can be like them, at least once in your lifetime.’’
Dominican Republic flags were in evidence in the first base boxes, the third base seats, and under the grandstand roof in right field. But Pedro Martinez already has universal appeal. Chants of ``Pe-dro!’’ came rolling out of the stands by the thousands.
He made the entire thing look ridiculously easy, allowing only one man to reach second base. Joey Cora (leadoff in the fourth) and Alex Rodriguez (one out in the sixth) had the hits. Edgar Martinez had the most adventuresome at-bat, working Martinez for a 10-pitch walk in the fourth. The only other man to reach base was Glenallen Hill, who walked on a 3-and-2 pitch to lead off the fifth, and who was then erased via a snappy 3-6-1 double play. The extent of any fielding heroics was the ability to catch a popup. And you should also know that he doesn’t fool around. Catch and throw, catch and throw. He did his work in a tidy 2:29.
Martinez now has a 0.39 ERA in his first 23 innings as a member of the Red Sox -- not that he wants to hear about it.
``Please don’t talk about ERA yet,’’ he begged. ``I’m only human. I don’t expect to have the same ERA as last year [1.90]. I just want to stay healthy. It’s too early to talk about ERAs. Don’t even talk about it.’’
So let’s talk about the possibility that Boston and Pedro could form the greatest American union since Mr. Sears first made the acquaintance of Mr. Roebuck.
``I like the fans here,’’ he said. ``I like the way they reacted today. I have a passion for the game. I play for myself, my teammates, and my family, but I also feel a responsibility to my team and the fans, with the money they’re paying me.’’
Fans love it when athletes talk like that.
``I always wondered what it would be like if Pedro ever got to a city where baseball mattered,’’ said Kerrigan, who was with Martinez in Montreal. ``He was a hidden treasure up there. Now he’s in a baseball environment in a city with a passion for the game. I think the love affair started today.’’
His next start is Friday against the Indians. It starts at 6:05, and here’s one more thing I can promise you: He’ll have you home for ``Homicide.’’ What’s not to love with this guy?