Pedro had heard enough about the Yankees. After five consecutive winless starts against the champs, he stoned them last night with eight innings of four-hit, 13-strikeout ball in a 3-0 victory.
Then he went on the attack in front of the microphones.
“I’m starting to hate talking about the Yankees,” he said. “The questions are so stupid. They’re wasting my time. It’s getting kind of old . . . I don’t believe in damn curses. Wake up the damn Bambino and have me face him. Maybe I’ll drill him in the ass, pardon me the word.”
This was a night when Pedro responded the way Larry Bird always reacted when told Michael Cooper or Paul Pressey was shutting him down. Five consecutive Pedro Martinez starts against New York had produced five Red Sox losses. Sox pitching guru Joe Kerrigan sensed the frustration.
“I think so,” acknowledged Kerrigan. “Tonight he was sort of like Popeye - `I can’t stands it no more!’ I could feel it from him a little more.”
Pedro was rightfully reacting to darts and arrows raining down on his head. Pedro Martinez suddenly can’t beat the New York Yankees. Steinbrenner Kryptonite foils Sox Superman. Pedro as Wilt Chamberlain vs. the Yankees as Bill Russell.
It was dopey, of course. In his last five starts against the Yankees Pedro was winless, but he’d also compiled a 2.75 earned run average as his teammates scored a total of seven runs against New York pitching.
So he went out and put a stop to the Yankee talk. Boston’s latter-day righthanded Koufax toyed with the Yanks in eight innings of mound mastery, throwing 81 of 121 pitches for strikes and not allowing a runner past second base in front of the biggest Fenway crowd (33,711) of the season. He gave up only four scratch singles, and his winless streak against the Yankees is now history.
Sox manager Jimy Williams said, “He continues to be very, very consistent. That’s Pedro. I think you have to write what you saw, write what you think. To me, he’s the best I’ve seen.”
There was no small buildup for this one, a rematch of last week’s Pedro-Mike Mussina classic (a 2-1 Yankee win) in New York. Longtime Sox watchers were reminded of 1971 when an undefeated Sonny Seibert dueled Oakland’s rookie sensation Vida Blue early in the season. There was another biggie in 1975 when Luis Tiant beat Jim Palmer, 2-0, in a September showdown. And of course, there was Pedro vs. Roger Clemens in the third game of the ALCS two years ago.
Now the Pedro-Moose jousts are mildly reminiscent of Carl Hubbell vs. Dizzy Dean or Koufax vs. Juan Marichal. They could meet for a third time in 12 days Monday in New York, but the Yanks may push Mussina back one day and ruin the rubber match.
All hype aside, the Sox needed this win more than Pedro. They’d dropped four straight to New York and faced the prospect of falling a season-high 2 1/2 games out of first en route to a weekend in Toronto.
Martinez retired the Yanks in order in the first, but was not nearly as impressive as Mussina, who fanned all three Sox he faced in the bottom of the inning. When Carl Everett struck out to end the frame, then hurled his bat and helmet about 50 feet toward the dugout, it looked as if we might be in for Pedro-Moose Redux.
“Striking out the side in the first is a bad omen, that’s what Earl Weaver always said,” observed Kerrigan, who pitched for Weaver in 1978.
The Sox broke through with a pair of runs on hard-hit doubles by Troy O’Leary and Brian Daubach in the second. Pedro already had 0.6 more runs than his average allotment in games against the Yankees. When Everett singled to drive home Jose Offerman in the third, Pedro had three runs with which to work - a virtual landslide. A biblical rainstorm swept through the park after the deluge of Sox runs, but play never halted.
“I wasn’t comfortable with the conditions,” said Martinez. “But you have to go out there and pitch.”
He took eight strikeouts and a one-hitter into the sixth. Scott Brosius led off with a single (Brosius has hit in all 25 of his Yankee starts at Fenway), and took second on a one-out throwing error by Offerman. The Yanks were one swing away from tying the game, but Pedro punched out Derek Jeter on a 94-mile-per-hour heater, then got David Justice on a grounder to short and it was on to the seventh.
“The Jeter strikeout was the most important out of the game,” said Martinez.
He fanned pinch hitter Henry Rodriguez in the eighth, then gave up his fourth hit, a two-out single to Chuck Knoblauch. He struck out Jeter on an offspeed pitch to finish the inning. It was his 121st and final pitch of the night.
After the Sox went out in the eighth, the bullpen door swung open and 33,711 booed as Derek Lowe trotted in. Lowe understood. Fans feel cheated any time Martinez leaves a game.
One of the first postgame questions tossed at Martinez was, “Enough of this can’t beat the Yankees stuff?”
Pedro stared in the other direction and said nothing. After the cameras were gone, he addressed the Yankee issue.
“I don’t know why they look for something to prove,” he said. “There’s no need for me to say anything bad about the Yankees. I’m a Red Sox. It’s OK to get excited about me being on the mound, but to get me to say something about the Yankees . . . I want to beat them, but I want to beat Tampa Bay and Detroit and Seattle, too.”
Good answer. Humble. Measured. Level-headed.
But he’s still a Red Sox, and sometimes that means wanting to bring back the Babe and drill him in the butt.