Tuesday, October 26, 2004

The Tipping Point

I was on the phone with my friend Missie during the seventh game of the ALCS when Pedro Martinez came out to pitch the seventh inning.

"If he asked into this game," I said, "I'm through with him."

I've been sticking up for Pedro for a long time now. It's wrong to question the man's heart, and it's wrong to compare him to the guy we had in 2000. The question shouldn't be "how much has he lost?" The question should be "who would you rather have?" It is a testament to the erosion of his skills that there is a list. It is a testament to his talent and competitive desire that the list is still so short.

However, as much as I love his heart, as grateful as I am for the memories of a spectacular pitcher at the absolute height of his powers, asking into the seventh game in New York epitomizes what has become so infuriating about him. His pride, no doubt, has contributed to his greatness, but it is also eating away at his effectiveness. He wouldn't give up a hit in Game Five of the LCS to the team he hates the most, so he nibbled his way into unnecessary walks and a prematurely inflated pitch count. He wanted to stick it to the Bronx faithful inquiring after his paternity in Game Seven, so he made an unnecessary and inflammatory appearance that could only jeopardize his status for the World Series.

I've heard people say that this wasn't Pedro's decision, that it was never part of the master plan for him to start Game One of the World Series anyway. Such foresight, I propose, is not Terry Francona's forte. Bob Ryan's assessment of the situation seems to me likelier: "Pedro pitched [in Game Seven] because Pedro wanted to pitch."

And so I wait for the most exciting player of my rooting life to take the hill tonight with decidedly mixed feelings. I hope to see him turn back the clock, to shackle an imposing Cardinals lineup as he once shackled an even scarier Cleveland Indians batting order. I will settle for the kind of start he gave us in Game Two against the Angels, not overwhelming but intelligent and effective. In either case, I find myself feeling something I never expected to feel: a wish that this really will be Pedro's last start in a Red Sox uniform. I want him to make his mark before he goes, to remind us of why he meant so much to us for so long. But I want him to go when this is over just the same. It would be better for us and, I suspect, it would be better for him.


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