NEW YORK — Pedro Martinez proved to the New York Yankees and every other American League contender why the Boston Red Sox could cause big problems in the playoffs.
Martinez put on a near-perfect performance, striking out a record 17 Yankees batters and pitching a one-hitter Friday night to lead the Red Sox over New York 3-1 Friday night.
After Chili Davis homered in the second inning, Martinez retired the final 22 hitters.
“This is as good as it gets,” Martinez said. “I felt in command of everything on every count.”
Martinez (21-4) tops the majors in wins and ERA (2.20) and leads the AL in strikeouts (274). He set a career high for strikeouts and matched his best low-hit game ever.
The Red Sox cut New York’s lead in the AL East to 5 1/2 games, but this is the number that most interests Martinez _ Boston leads the wild-card race by three games over Oakland.
“I’m thinking about holding the lead and getting them in a short series,” Martinez said. “I don’t believe in the Curse of the Bambino.”
A sellout crowd of 55,239 saw the Yankees wearing black armbands to honor Hall of Fame pitcher Catfish Hunter, who died Thursday. Flags were flown at half-staff, and highlights of his career were shown on the scoreboard during a moment of silence.
Martinez then kept the Yankees quiet all evening.
Chuck Knoblauch was hit by a pitch to start the first inning and quickly was caught stealing. Davis was the only other batter to reach base.
“I guess I prevented history,” Davis said.
Never before had 17 Yankees batters fanned in one game, but New York had no chance against Martinez’s dazzling assortment of fastballs, curves and changeups.
“If he throws like this every time out, he’ll never lose,” said New York’s Paul O’Neill.
After the fourth inning, the Yankees hit just one fair ball. Martinez fanned 12 of the 15 final batters.
“I’ve never seen a game pitched like that,” Red Sox manager Jimy Williams said. “I don’t know if you guys have.”
New York’s Derek Jeter agreed: “It’s probably the best performance I’ve seen.”
And remember, Jeter saw David Cone and David Wells pitch perfect games at Yankee Stadium, and also watched Martinez strike out four former MVPs and home-run champ Mark McGwire at the All-Star game.
Martinez struck out every Yankees hitter at least once. In the ninth, he fanned pinch-hitter Darryl Strawberry with a 97 mph fastball, matching his hardest pitch of the night.
“I had no clue,” Strawberry said.
Martinez struck out the side in the fifth, seventh and ninth innings, and fanned at least 10 for the fifth straight start. He became the first right-hander to record six 15-strikeout games in a season since Nolan Ryan in 1974.
Mike Stanley hit a go-ahead, two-run homer in the sixth inning against former teammate Andy Pettitte (12-11) as the Red Sox won for the 13th time in 17 games.
Dominican fans rooting for Martinez, meanwhile, kept track of his strikeout total in both the upper deck in left field and the right-center field bleachers. When Yankees fans discovered the tote board in left, the “K” placards were ripped up and pieces fluttered down to big cheers.
Martinez pitched a one-hitter for Montreal on July 13, 1997, against Cincinnati. In 1995, he pitched nine perfect innings for the Expos at San Diego, but gave up a hit to start the 10th.
“This is just as good, and probably even more dominant,” Martinez said.
Davis pulled a fastball over the fence in right-center with two outs in the second.
“It was a good pitch,” Martinez said.