Remember when Ronald Reagan unleashed the awesome might of the US armed forces against Grenada, the speck of an island nation? Or when the Brits stormed the flimsy Falklands? Or when Pedro Martinez first went one-on-one with the Seattle Mariners?
Talk about your mismatches. Just as American and British forces almost certainly would go 10 for 10 in rematches against their punchless island foes, Martinez yesterday improved to a perfect 10-0 against the Mariners as he led the Red Sox to a 4-1 triumph before a bundled-up 32,385 at Fenway Park.
There’s just one wee difference between Seattle and Grenada: The Mariners are proven in battle.
The Mariners know how to win and score runs (they lead the league with 6.04 a game). The thing is, they just can’t beat Martinez, who has rolled up an 0.94 ERA against them since they first experienced the misfortune of facing him four years ago.
In the aftermath, Seattle manager Lou Piniella issued the understatement of the day about his club’s history against Martinez: “We’re due.”
If only the Mariners were those guys in pinstripes. Martinez may never have to bray about the Bambino again.
“He dominates a lot of people, and they just happen to be somebody he does pretty regularly,” said Sox manager Grady Little, who risked sending his ace into some of the worst conditions the pitcher has faced (41 degrees with 23-mile-an-hour winds and an occasional drizzle) after a 2-hour-5-minute rain delay.
“That’s a good ball club,” Little said of the Mariners. “But he’s a good pitcher.”
That’s one way to put it. Martinez improved to 6-0 with a 2.80 ERA by scattering six hits, allowing only a single run (on Ruben Sierra’s homer in the fourth), and striking out nine over eight innings. He got all the runs he needed in the first inning, when the Sox scored twice. And Ugueth Urbina picked him up in the ninth for his 13th save.
“Thank God I’ve always had the support of my teammates, who always seem to be right on top of their game at the time we’ve played [the Mariners],” Martinez said. “I just have to say they caught our team at the wrong time for them, and I’ve gotten the team at the right time against them.”
Martinez is too modest, of course, since he’s a big reason the Sox have won the last eight games he has started. He put them on the path to victory yesterday by striking out the side in the first inning on nine pitches, becoming just the 35th pitcher in history to accomplish the feat. It electrified the crowd, which, like the players, had endured the long wait before game time.
“That gave us a huge lift,” Brian Daubach said. “Running in from left field after the inning, I was like, `All right, now we’ve got a game.’ “
So they did. And they promptly rolled with the momentum, as Jose Offerman laced a one-out double off Seattle starter James Baldwin. Nomar Garciaparra then scorched a double to right-center, knocking in Offerman.
“That was huge,” Martinez said. “As soon as we scored one, I said, `You know what, this might be the only run I need to win this ballgame.’ “
As insurance, Daubach wasted no time singling to drive in Garciaparra and make it 2-0. “To get the two runs really saved my day,” Martinez said.
That’s because Sierra dinged him for the home run, into the Seattle bullpen, leading off the fourth. “I was trying to get a ground ball on it, but I gave up a bomb,” said the Sox ace, who described the weather conditions as the worst he has pitched in.
The conditions were fine with Trot Nixon, who was thrilled just to be back on the field after missing four games for his suspension for letting his bat soar at Tampa Bay pitcher Ryan Rupe May 5. Nixon commemorated his return by drilling the second pitch he saw from Baldwin around the Pesky Pole into the right-field stands leading off the second.
“I was begging for it to go around that pole,” Nixon said.
After Sierra cut the lead to 3-1, the Sox added a run in the fifth when Garciaparra drew a one-out walk, advanced to second on Shea Hillenbrand’s single, and scored on a single by Carlos Baerga. That made it less painful for the Sox faithful when Ichiro Suzuki leaped to rob Johnny Damon of a home run at the Boston bullpen in the sixth.
It was still cold, damp, and windy when the long-delayed game ended. But the Sox had the victory to warm them.
“We’d be disappointed if we waited around and played in those conditions and lost,” Daubach said. “It’s always better when you win these games.”