Thursday October 29th, 2009

NEW YORK -- Only Pedro Martinez, sitting at home in the Dominican Republic under one of his legendary mango trees, could have concocted a scenario quite like this. At 38 years old, on the verge of retirement, having sat out half the season, Martinez will start Game 2 of the World Series on Thursday night, at Yankee Stadium of all places. If he is plotting a great goodbye, here is the place and time.

Handicapping how Martinez will pitch is as futile as guessing what will come out of his mouth afterward. He has been at his best in New York, striking out 17 on a September day in 1999, and he has also been at his worst, famously terming the Yankees "my daddy" late in 2004. He is coming off his most memorable performance in years --allowing just two hits to the Dodgers over seven innings in Game 2 of the National League Championship Series -- but the Yankees are a more potent lineup and they are desperate, having already dropped Game 1.

Martinez appears to be in the midst of a farewell tour, hitting every landmark but Olympic Stadium and Fenway Park. His first stop was Los Angeles, where he made his major league debut. Now he returns to New York, where he played the villain in the Yankees-Red Sox feud, when the rivalry was at its height. Martinez is not the same pitcher as he was back then, and he willingly admits it. The self-proclaimed "old goat" talks openly about the miles per hour he has lost, and the guile he has gained.

Martinez's last postseason appearance prior to this year was in 2004 with the Red Sox and he hasn't faced the Yankees since June of '08, when he was with the Mets (he was shelled for six runs in 5 2/3 innings). But he has a chance to give the Phillies a 2-0 Series lead as they head home for the middle three games at Citizens Bank Park, where they are 11-1 in the past two postseasons. No matter how he performs, though, Martinez has already made a scene without throwing a pitch. His pre-start press conference, always an attraction, turned unbelievable on Wednesday, when he chided the New York media, invoked the name of Don Zimmer, and reviewed one more time the origin of "Who's your daddy?" It was Martinez unplugged, rambling but entertaining, better in his words than anybody else's.

On the New York press, which loved to play up his role in the Yankees-Red Sox battle royal: "Because of you guys, in some ways, I might be at times the most influential player that ever stepped in Yankee Stadium. I can honestly say that ... I remember quotes in the paper -- 'Here comes the man that New York lives to hate.' The man? None of you have probably ever eaten steak with me or rice and beans with me to understand what the man is about. You guys have abused my name."

On former Yankees bench coach Zimmer, whom he famously threw to the ground in Game 3 of the 2003 American League Championship Series: "When Zim came over to me, I thought he was going to just give me advice or something, just go 'Pedro, you need to slow down or something.' ... His reaction was totally the opposite. He was trying to punch my mouth and told me a couple of bad words about my mom. I just had to react and defend myself. ... It's something ugly. I thought when I saw Zim down on the ground -- I thought so much of my dad. I respect older people; I respect elders. I don't condone anything like that.'"

And finally, on his unforgettable quip late in the 2004 season that the Yankees were "my daddy," spawning five years of mocking chants: "Any time I hear that, 'Who's your daddy?' it really reminds me that God is my daddy. ... Maybe when I said that quote out of frustration, I had the purpose of maybe hearing it now, hearing it the following few years that I played, because every time I hear it, it reminds me not to make the same mistake."

Martinez steered the press conference on his own, choosing to revisit his relationship with New York, bringing up Zimmer without so much as a prompt. Last week in Philadelphia, he ducked interview requests, claiming that he knew what questions were coming. It was as though he needed time to prepare. He went into Wednesday with a plan, and in trademark fashion, executed it.

As usual, he has managed to enhance the atmosphere around his appearance and ensure that he will be greeted by the same old chant. It will rain down from the bleachers to the box seats, like some tired college fight song, over and over again. But Martinez has a chance to do what no one -- except maybe him -- could have imagined: silence it once and for all.

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