Ace in a Hole As the Red Sox faithful watched expectantly, star Pedro Martinez delivered a horrid Opening Day performance, raising new worries all over New England

April 07, 2002

Even before he arrived at the Fenway Park mound to face the
Toronto Blue Jays on Monday afternoon, righthander Pedro
Martinez showed that his flair for the dramatic, as much a part
of his Hall of Fame-caliber makeup as his lethal changeup, had
survived the winter intact. Martinez, the Boston Red Sox' ace
and spiritual lifeblood, completed his warmup in the rightfield
bullpen as his teammates assembled along the first base line for
Opening Day introductions. When his name was announced, he was
already ambling across the rightfield expanse toward the dugout
with a matador's bearing. As he walked, Martinez slid his
pitching arm into his warmup jacket and raised it in the air to
straighten the sleeve, as if he were reassuring the Fenway
faithful that, yes, his fragile right shoulder was fully
functional.

It was the first Martinez moment of 2002, and the 33,520 in
attendance predictably went berserk. It was also the last
Martinez moment of the day. Two hours later Red Sox Nation had a
discouraging status report on its hero: With Toronto ahead 8-6,
Blue Jays on first and second and no one out in the top of the
fourth, Martinez trudged, shoulders slumped, to the dugout. This
time, instead of a jacket, he carried with him one of the worst
pitching lines of his career: 3 IP, 9 H, 8 R, 7 ER, 2 BB, 4 SO.
(The seven earned runs tied his alltime high.) Boston ended up
losing 12-11, but the defeat was far less foreboding than
Martinez's performance.

There was much to pique Red Sox fans' interest on Monday--new
owners (John Henry, Larry Lucchino and Tom Werner), a new manager
(Grady Little), a new leadoff hitter (centerfielder Johnny
Damon)--but the question on the Hub's mind was, What's up with
Pedro's shouldah? If hope sprang eternal for all 30 teams in
their season openers, no other club had as great an opportunity
to handicap its pennant prospects in its first game as Boston
did. "Obviously," says righthander Derek Lowe, "we need Pedro to
win to have a chance."

There are other factors, of course, as Monday's game proved. The
Red Sox offense, energized by Damon at the top of the lineup and
shortstop Nomar Garciaparra's recovery from a wrist injury that
debilitated him all last season, was intimidating. By rallying
from a 7-1 deficit to take an 11-8 lead, the hitters spared
Martinez the loss. New first baseman Tony Clark had three hits,
including a three-run homer. Catcher Jason Varitek, who missed
most of 2001 with a broken elbow, went 3 for 3 with a home run.

Martinez, a three-time Cy Young Award winner, sets the tone for
Boston, however, and while his entrance may have had the feel of
a heavyweight champ ascending to the ring, his bravado was tinged
with hope rather than confidence. Beginning last June 27, he was
on the disabled list for all but two weeks of the rest of the
season with a partially torn rotator cuff, the first serious
injury of his major league career. After a spring training in
which he didn't have command of his devastating arsenal of
pitches, Martinez, 30, finds himself at a career crossroads. As
Varitek says, "This is a different world for him right now."

"I would say, Be patient with the way I'm coming along," Martinez
said near the conclusion of spring training. "I was in a very
difficult situation last year, and I don't want to go through
that again."

Martinez made 18 starts in 2001 and won only seven games, both
career lows since he became a full-time starter. He spent the
winter at his home in the Dominican Republic and at the Red Sox
complex in Fort Myers, Fla., strengthening his shoulder, adding
10 pounds of muscle to his 5'11", now 190-pound frame and no
doubt ruminating on the fact that a torn rotator cuff halted the
career of his older brother, Ramon.

Martinez's spring training outings were scrutinized like other
pitchers' regular-season starts. He showed flashes of his old
self but the overall results were dismal: a 6.62 ERA and 22 hits
allowed in 17 2/3 innings. While insisting that he was
pain-free, Martinez admitted that he had difficulty locating his
pitches, getting a feel for his breaking stuff and adjusting his
mechanics to his new bulk.

The gunslinger who last year grew so tired of hearing talk of the
Curse of the Bambino that he threatened to "drill him in the ass"
was feeling his way like a rookie. "Pedro's been through
something in the last six months that he's never been through
before," says Little, "and there's still some doubt in his mind
about whether it will hurt when he pitches."

After Monday's outing Martinez declared that his shoulder didn't
hurt, and the velocity of his fastball--low- to mid-90s--appeared
to bear him out. "I'm happy with the way I felt," he said. "I
feel healthy. I just gave it up today, no excuses. I'm not used
to being wild at this stage of the season."

Martinez was off his game from the start. He walked the first
batter, designated hitter Shannon Stewart, and had difficulty
spotting his pitches throughout his three-plus innings. He even
hit two batters with runners already on base. The Blue Jays,
knowing Martinez was on a strict pitch count (85; he threw 84
before leaving), made a point of not chasing pitches early in the
count. "We laid off some pitches we normally would have gone
after," said leftfielder Jose Cruz Jr., who doubled, struck out
and walked against Martinez.

Toronto players also made contact on pitches that Martinez
normally blows past hitters. In the second inning second baseman
Homer Bush dumped a 94-mph fastball down the rightfield line for
a double; three batters later, rookie third baseman Eric Hinske
broke his bat on a fastball and blooped a two-run single to
right.

If Martinez was having trouble finishing off hitters, it was
probably because he appeared to be limiting his pitch selection,
using his curveball sparingly. "Usually he gets me out with
breaking stuff," said Toronto catcher Darrin Fletcher, who
doubled and struck out against Martinez. "I'm wondering why he
didn't throw me any today." That was the most obvious sign that
Martinez was feeling uncomfortable in his own skin. Breaking
pitches require a surgeon's touch. If Martinez was thinking about
his mechanics or worrying about his shoulder, it would have been
easy for him to lose the feel for a pitch.

For the first few weeks of the season Martinez is scheduled to
get an extra day's rest between starts (his next outing was set
for Sunday against the Baltimore Orioles), and judging by the way
Little handled him on Monday, Boston is essentially treating
these starts as glorified spring training games. Though Martinez
had thrown 72 pitches and surrendered eight runs through three
innings, he was sent out to start the fourth with cleanup hitter
Carlos Delgado and Cruz due up. (After allowing a single and a
walk, he was removed.) Little's explanation for leaving his ace
in a potentially embarrassing situation: "We wanted to make sure
he got his work in."

Forget carrying a team--Martinez is weeks away from assuming the
average major league starter's workload. No matter, say the Red
Sox. Their early schedule is soft (26 of their first 30 games are
against teams that finished below .500 last year), and they're
counting on Martinez for games far more important than those in
April. "The goal here is to have him pitching in October," says
Little. "He's still getting his feel. It's coming. We just have
to be patient."

Martinez too is content to take it slowly. "We don't know how I'm
going to react the next three months or what's out there for me
this season," he said after Monday's game. "I can only hope to be
healthy."

That wasn't the opening line Red Sox fans wanted to hear.

COLOR PHOTO: PHOTOGRAPH BY DAVID BERGMAN OFF THE PLATE Martinez's first offering of the 2002 season--a ball to Stewart--led to a 25-pitch, three-run opening inning. COLOR PHOTO: AL BELLO/GETTY IMAGES PINING AWAY Despite his confident pregame entrance, Martinez was particularly pensive thereafter. COLOR PHOTO: DAVID BERGMAN HALE FELLOW Not all was lost for the Fenway faithful: Garciaparra, another 2001 casualty, was back making stops at short.

Plummeting Pedro

From the start of the 2000 season (after which he won his second
straight Cy Young Award) through June 26, 2001, when he departed
in the fifth inning of a start against the Devil Rays with a
sore shoulder, Pedro Martinez cemented his reputation as the
best pitcher in the American League. However, in four
appearances since returning from a two-month stint on the
disabled list--including his three-inning, seven-earned-run
shellacking on Monday by the Blue Jays--he has been most
un-Pedro-like. Here's a comparison of Martinez's numbers before
and after his injury.

GAMES W-L INN./ PITCHES/ HITS/ K'S/ BB/9 ERA
GAME GAME 9 INN. 9 INN. INN.

April 4, 2000-June 26, 2001

44 25-8 7.3 107.8 5.6 12.2 1.5 1.91

Aug. 26, 2001-April 1, 2002

4 0-3 4 74.0 11.8 9.6 2.8 6.75

"Usually [Martinez] gets me out with breaking stuff," said
Fletcher. "He didn't throw me any today."

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)