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Observers still awestruck by Pedro Martinez’s performance

PEDRO’S CONQUERED TERRITORY, USA -- It is the sober light of the Day After. You are David Cone. You have been quoted as speaking of the Friday night Pedro Martinez performance in apocalyptic terms. You have now had the benefit of a good night’s sleep. Like members of Congress, who are permitted to alter remarks to their satisfaction before they are committed to history in the Congressional Record, you are now being offered an opportunity to rethink, or, as Roger Clemens would say, to ``re-correct’’ yourself for the official Baseball Record.

That said, David Cone, what is your final and unalterable reflection on Pedro’s one-hit, 17-strikeout embarrassment of the Yankees?

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``It was the best-pitched game I’ve ever seen,’’ asserts the great Yankee hurler.

``Excluding my perfect game, of course,’’ jokes Cone.

That, however, proves to be a throwaway line, for Cone really does believe Pedro’s masterpiece was a more dominant pitching display than his 27-up, 27-down dispatch of the Montreal Expos on July 18.

``I’ve never seen anything better,’’ reiterates Cone. ``He had three completely dominant pitches: a great fastball, a knee-buckling curve, and a parachute changeup. Other than that, what else do you need?’’

To Cone’s way of thinking, Pedro’s repertoire is nothing less than unfair.

``I saw [Orel] Hershiser’s great year in ‘88, and he basically did it with one pitch, a hard sinker,’’ says Cone. ``Nolan Ryan had a fastball and a curve. Mike Scott, when he was at his peak, had a fastball and a splitter. Dwight Gooden was another one with a fastball and a curve. Pedro has three great pitches.’’

Let’s talk context. Roger Clemens fanned 20 Seattle Mariners in late April 1986. The Mariners turned out to be the strike-outingest team anyone had ever seen. Ten years later, Roger Clemens fanned 20 Detroit Tigers in a meaningless late September game while they were en route to establishing a new whiff standard. What Pedro Martinez did the night before last was on an entirely different plateau.

``He did it here, in Yankee Stadium, in a pennant race, when the team really needed a win,’’ reminds Cone, who is always capable of seeing the Big Picture.

Speaking of the Big Picture, the time has come to slot Pedro in the MVP race. The Cy Young race is over, of course. With 21 wins, a 2.20 ERA, and 274 strikeouts, he has nailed down the pitching triple corwn with three weeks to go. No, really. He can’t lose. He’s got five more wins and 104 more strikeouts than anyone. His ERA edge of damn near a full run per nine innings (Cone is second with 3.10) may be the most astonishing lead of all. Throw in his league-leading .207 opponents’ batting average and there really is nothing else anyone needs to know. Pedro Martinez will win his second Cy Young Award.

The MVP award is a different matter. Some people -- OK, me -- are put off by the idea of pitchers winning the MVP. The Cy Young Award should be their ultimate honor. How can you compare the kumquat that is an everyday player with the squash that is a pitcher? Others -- OK, most everyone else -- say it’s not that difficult when you ask yourself the following question: Where would the team be without him?

Let us, as they say, do the math. The Red Sox are plus-20 for the season. Pedro is plus-17. This may not quite be the 1972 Phillies/Steve Carlton discrepancy (minus-44/plus-17), but it is impressive and meaningful and about as good an argument as any one player in the American League has when the simple subject under discussion is his inherent value to his team. I’m still a guy who believes the MVP should go to the (Everyday) Player of the Year, but I’m not voting and so I am here to predict that Pedro wins ‘em both.

``I’m a pitcher,’’ says Cone, ``and I understand the debate. But I think it’s pretty clear. You take Pedro away from Boston, and where are they? That sounds like an MVP to me.’’

This all presupposes more superb Pedro outings. Given that he is 4-0 with a 0.58 ERA in his last four starts (not to mention 11 hits allowed in 31 innings), that’s practically a given, isn’t it? There haven’t been too many dead spots in his spectacular season. And consider this: With the DL stint, he’s actually saved a little wear and tear on his arm.

``Absolutely,’’ confirms Cone. ``I’m down to pitching once a week now, and I can tell the difference. I feel much fresher.’’

Cone is 36. Pedro is not yet 28 (Oct. 25). The veteran admits to being a bit envious of the prime-of-lifer.

``I was kidding him at the All-Star Game,’’ Cone says. ``I said, `Hey, it’s easy being you. Anybody can win when they throw 97. Come and see me in seven years or so, and let’s see if you can win when you’re throwing 83.’ ‘’

The problem for hitters, as Cone reminds us, is that Pedro Martinez does a lot more than throw in the mid 90s. Exhibit A was a Ricky Ledee at-bat in the eighth inning Friday. This time the raconteur is Dan Duquette.

``He started him off with two changeups on the outside,’’ recalls the GM. ``Then a curveball to go 1-and-2. If you’re Ledee, what do you look for now? Pedro just blows a fastball by him.’’

Three pitches. A mid-90s fastball. The ``knee-buckling curve.’’ The ``parachute changeup.’’ Superb control. Top-drawer competitive instincts. Off-the-scale baseball intelligence. Only one man on earth has all this, and it’s Pedro Martinez, the best pitcher in baseball.

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