After an emotion-draining prelude that left the greatest players past and present awash in tears around Hall of Famer Ted Williams, it was difficult to imagine that anyone playing in the 70th All-Star Game could make this stage his alone.
But as one fan in the sellout crowd of 34,187 in Fenway Park shouted from the grandstand during the American League’s 4-1 win over its National League counterparts last night, “This is your house, Pedro,” and Red Sox ace Pedro Martinez once again staked his claim on Yawkey Way’s most precious property.
In a pitching performance that rivaled one of the All-Star Game’s most legendary moments — Carl Hubbell of the Giants striking out Hall of Famers Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Jimmie Foxx, Al Simmons, and Joe Cronin in succession 65 years ago — Martinez struck out the side in the first inning, then struck out two more batters in the second inning, and was a unanimous choice as the game’s Most Valuable Player.
“This is probably more than I expected,” Martinez said. “I just wanted to be part of it, have fun with it. I thought seeing Ted Williams come in, the crowd going wild, and the planes passing by, this is one we’ll hopefully all enjoy, the fans and me.”
Martinez’s victims were Barry Larkin, Larry Walker, and Sammy Sosa in the first inning, Mark McGwire and Jeff Bagwell in the second, all arguably future Hall of Famers. Sosa is the biggest star in Martinez’s native Dominican Republic, and a close second here to McGwire, whose Home Run Derby performance Monday night will forever remain a part of Fenway lore.
Asked if he were amazed that he had made the National League’s legion of lumber flail so helplessly, Martinez shook his head.
“Not really,” he said. “I think that’s what makes baseball so interesting. You just never know what will happen. Those guys are some of the best of the world. Anything can happen. That’s what makes the game so special.”
Martinez became the first pitcher in All-Star history to strike out the game’s first three batters. He also tied an American League All-Star record, shared in part by Dick Radatz of the Red Sox.
Last night, the Monster, as Radatz was known, was joined by the Munchkin, or El Pitufo, as they might say back in Martinez’s native Manoguayabo.
“When you have a guy like Pedro, whether he’s throwing the fastball or the changeup, with his arm speed it’s like trying to hit in a dark room,” American League manager Joe Torre said of Martinez.
Martinez joined Roger Clemens as the second Red Sox pitcher to be the winning pitcher in an All-Star Game, and the second to be named MVP. Clemens was here last night and drew boos when introduced as one of the century’s top players, the reaction no doubt inspired in part by the Yankee cap atop the Rocket’s head.
“It was weird being behind [Martinez] pitching, because usually I’m the one hitting against him, and he’s either striking me out or getting me out,” said Cleveland first baseman Jim Thome, who singled home Indians teammate Kenny Lofton with the first AL run in the bottom of the first, when the AL scored twice off NL starter (and former Red Sox property) Curt Schilling of the Phillies.
“He’s dominating, he really is. He is a big-game pitcher and he rises to the big occasion. He’s one of those guys that when the spotlight is on him, he does a great job.”
Martinez set the tone on a night that the two teams, playing in what was supposed to be hitter-friendly environs, set a record for most strikeouts with 22. The record-setting whiff came in the ninth, when Texas Rangers closer John Wetteland of the AL fanned Dave Nilsson of the Brewers in the ninth.
There were no home runs, meaning the National League went 0 for the century in going deep in the three All-Star Games played at Fenway. This was the 14th All-Star Game in which neither side hit a home run, and first since 1990, when the game was played in a rain-swept Wrigley Field.
Perhaps the game’s biggest swingers lost their edge during the nearly hour-long pregame ceremonies, which climaxed with Ted Williams surrounded at the center of the Fenway Park diamond last night by the greatest collection of baseball stars — past, present and future — ever assembled in a single setting. Feller to Mays to Garciaparra, a century’s time line arcing into a single circle.
The Hall of Famers in suits, which included Hammerin’ Hank, the Say Hey Kid, and Yaz, and the All-Stars in full uniform blended into an emotional tableau of applause, hugs, and tears around the golf cart transporting Williams, the 80-year-old Red Sox icon who, as someone observed, is being transformed before our eyes from Teddy Ballgame into Father Baseball.
“You know, there were a lot of guys out there that were teared up,” McGwire said. “The Hall of Famers out there, and the All-Stars, when you see Ted Williams and he has tears running down his eyes, it’s an emotional time.”
As Dorchester’s Donna Summer was finishing her elegant rendition of the national anthem, four F-14s thundered overhead, seemingly skimming across the tops of the Fenway light stanchions.
“Helen Robinson will be getting all kinds of calls on the switchboard tomorrow,” said Dick Bresciani, the Red Sox vice president of public relations. “People saying, ‘My windows are broken’ or ‘You woke up my baby.’”
How loud was it?
“I almost fell to the ground, they scared the daylights out of me,” said National League outfielder Larry Walker.
On this night, a clear, 67-degree midsummer’s delight, the complaints would be few, although there may have been some minor grumbling that Martinez only worked the first two innings.
Martinez allowed one base runner to reach, Matt Williams, who got on board on Robbie Alomar’s one-out error in the second. Williams, running on a full-count pitch, was erased trying to steal by AL catcher Ivan Rodriguez when Bagwell whiffed, ending Martinez’s stint.
The National League scored its only run in the third against Martinez’s replacement, David Cone of the Yankees. First-time All-Star Jeromy Burnitz, the Milwaukee Brewers slugger, lined a one-out double to right, and after Jay Bell looked at a third strike for the second out, Larkin of the Reds grounded a single up the middle, Burnitz scoring to make it 2-1. Walker was retired on a comebacker to the mound, ending the inning.
Red Sox shortstop Nomar Garciaparra, who had missed the last nine Sox games with a strained left groin, played three innings. He lined to right against National League starter Curt Schilling in the first, then swung at Randy Johnson’s first pitch of the third and lifted a high fly to shallow center, where Sosa of the Cubs gathered it in.
Torre sent Garciaparra out for the fourth, but just before play resumed, Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter emerged from the American League dugout and met Garciaparra just in front of second base. The two shook hands in front of second base and embraced, and then with his usual stiff-legged gait, Garciaparra trotted off the field to sustained applause.
“I said [to Garciaparra] I had to find a way for them not to boo Jeter,” Torre said.
The AL gave Martinez a 2-0 lead in the bottom of the first, as three of the four Cleveland Indians in the starting lineup, plus Iron Cal Ripken, combined to ambush Schilling.
Leadoff man Kenny Lofton, taking advantage of Schilling’s tardy arrival at first base, beat out an infield hit to McGwire at first base. Two outs later, Lofton stole second and Manny Ramirez of the Indians drew a full-count walk. Thome lined a 1-and-0 single to center, scoring Lofton with the game’s first run, and Ripken hit Schilling’s next pitch to right field, scoring Ramirez to make it 2-0.
The AL scored twice more in the fourth off Cardinals pitcher Kent Bottenfield, who opened by walking Thome and hitting Ripken with a pitch. Texas’s Rafael Palmeiro singled home one run, and the fourth run scored when Williams missed Alomar’s groundball.
Martinez already was in street clothes when he learned he’d been named MVP. When he was first signed by the Dodgers in the Dominican Republic as a teen-ager, he was chastised by club officials for singing on the mound while pitching.
But during this symphony of a season he is composing, no one would dare suggest he shut off the music.
“It’s going to be a long night for me tonight,” he said with a radiant smile.