Doctor Feelgood made a house call yesterday in the Fens, dispensing a giant dose of relief to The Franchise (a.k.a. Pedro Martinez) and every New Englander whose summer dreams turn on the master craftsman’s health.
Five days after Martinez pulled a Stephen King, frightening himself and Red Sox fandom by abruptly departing a game with a stiff right shoulder, he returned to face the unknown.
With his shoulder in question, was he bound for the disabled list or a shot at postseason glory?
“I can tell that the people were really worried,” Martinez said. “Even myself, I was concerned.”
Not to fret. As spectacular as ever, Martinez (14-4) capitalized on a sudden, early burst of batting might by his struggling teammates and shackled the Texas Rangers, 9-0, with a three-hit, 10-strikeout effort through seven innings.
Bryce Florie pitched two innings to complete the shutout.
“My teammates really took care of the game early,” Martinez said. “After that, to me, it was just throw strikes and stay healthy.”
In short, it was all good: Martinez, the Sox offense, the weather, the peanuts, you name it.
So what if the Sox loaded the bases with none out in the second inning and left everyone stranded, a hauntingly familiar omen?
They quickly went on a scoring binge, pushing across three runs in the third and five more in the fourth, with timely hitting and uncharacteristic patience at the plate. Jason Varitek drove in four runs during the outburst and Lou Merloni knocked in three.
For a team that ranks third-lowest in the league in runs and second in runners left on base, the big innings were nearly as welcome as Martinez’s superb return.
“Obviously, we’ve had our troubles scoring,” said Merloni, who is hitting a remarkable .560 (14 for 25) in the six games since he joined the team. “But we’re not going to quit. Everybody’s still trying as hard as they can to come up with those big hits.”
The victory was the fifth in the first six games of Boston’s 10-game homestand and the team’s eighth in its last 11 games, keeping the Sox in contention for both an American League wild-card spot and the East division title.
Never mind that Merloni was thrown out at the plate by a city block trying to score on Bernard Gilkey’s double in the fifth, cutting short a promising rally.
Merloni’s predecessor (Ed Sprague), designated for assignment Tuesday, has become Ed Who? It was Merloni’s third three-hit game of the week.
“Merloni has done a great job for us,” Martinez said. “Sometimes you never know which one is the one who is going to turn around a team, and he might be the player.”
Pedro could make two. With his pinpoint control, overpowering fastball, and paralyzing changeup, he was, as usual, a study in excellence and efficiency.
Only one Ranger, Rusty Greer, reached second base, and he got there by stealing it after hitting a two-out single in the first.
Martinez struck out six of the first eight Texas batters, and he was throwing his fastball with as much velocity (94 miles an hour) or more in the seventh inning as he did in the first. The shutout was Boston’s league-leading 10th of the season.
“I don’t know whether he was 100 percent physically,” Varitek said. “But he was 100 percent efficient with his pitching.”
Texas hit only five balls beyond the infield off Martinez, and three of those were outs. Still, Martinez said he felt his shoulder getting “heavy” as he sat in the dugout during Boston’s long rallies in the third and fourth.
He said his short-term goal was to pitch longer in the game than he had in his last outing, when he pulled himself out after giving up three runs in four innings Monday in a 7-3 win over Tampa Bay.
“You pretty much have to get to the spot where you left the game before and see how it will feel,” he said. “After I got through the fourth inning, I said I am definitely better than the other time.”
Manager Jimy Williams said Martinez was wise to pull himself from the Tampa Bay game and possibly prevent further harm.
“Coming out of that other game was probably the best thing that happened to him,” Williams said. “He sure pitched a heck of a game for us today.”
On offense, all but one Sox starter, Mike Lansing, reached base. The team had 11 hits and drew eight walks, including one intentional walk to Nomar Garciaparra. Merloni, Garciaparra, and Darren Lewis each scored two runs, and no one cared that they left nine runners on base.
In fact, after several tight games when the crowd was too edgy for comfort, most of the 33,222 patrons passed much of the carefree afternoon perfecting the recently forgotten wave.
And no one seemed to notice when Brian Daubach, looking like a Blues Brother as he wore sunglasses under a catcher’s mask, warmed up Martinez while Varitek, the catcher, put on his gear after striking out in the sixth.
“We’ve had a lot of games lately where we’ve had to battle the whole way through,” Daubach said. “I don’t want to say you relax a little bit, but with a 9-0 lead and Pedro on the mound, you have a better feeling about how the game is going to turn out.”
It’s a feel-good sensation.