Column originally published Aug. 20, 2000.
BOSTON — If Picasso slaps some oils on a canvas, calls it “Guernica,” and tells you it’s a classic, you believe him.
If he trips on a can of paint and you praise the resulting mess for its genius, he has every right to laugh at you.
To most of the 33,222 in attendance at Fenway Park last night, it looked like Pedro Martinez authored “Guernica.” But to Martinez, who’s produced so many classics he tosses the four-hitters back, yesterday’s 9-0 victory over Texas didn’t quite meet his standards. At least his standards of health.
Save for a couple of miles an hour on his fastball, Martinez looked like Martinez. He struck out 10 Texas Rangers, walked none and allowed just three hits in seven shutout innings.
He threw a mere 89 pitches and seemed in total command. His final fastball registered 92 mph and froze Ricky Ledee for called strike three. He left to a Pedro-like ovation.
As much as he looked like Pedro, he didn’t sound like Pedro afterwards. Whatever ailment caused him to leave his last start against Tampa Bay after just four innings, the artiste’s cautious words suggest it’s lingering.
“In long innings, I noticed (the shoulder) felt heavy on me,” he said. “But there was never really any pain like the other time. After a few pitches, it would be fine again.”
Perhaps we’re making too much of this. Perhaps Martinez just isn’t of the personality to run around high-fiving everyone because his shoulder feels better. As it is, none of his teammates would have guessed anything was wrong with him.
“I know he had total command of his pitches and was 100 percent efficient,” shrugged Sox catcher Jason Varitek. “Only he can tell you if he’s 100 percent healthy.”
Martinez all but told us he wasn’t. That doesn’t mean he won’t be for his next start, or the one after that. But it also doesn’t mean he’s freed himself from the bear trap just yet.
He measured his words. At this point in the season, nagging injuries are as prevalent as resin. He doesn’t want to panic the populace. But he doesn’t want to pretend everything’s fine, either.
“I hope the fans realize I’m at a stage where I know my body,” he said. “I was good enough to go out there, keep doing what I’m doing. Hopefully I’ll be fine by the end of the season.”
If he feels like he did yesterday for the rest of the season, the Red Sox will be fine. He certainly could have pitched longer, but with a 9-0 lead, there was no point. Find a frame for that baby, matte it, and sell it on eBay.
“If he didn’t work up a sweat in the bullpen,” sighed Texas manager Johnny Oates, “he won’t need a shower.”
Martinez did all his perspiring in the first inning when Rusty Greer lined a one-out single and stole second. He didn’t get any further, though, because Martinez struck out Frank Catalanotto and Rafael Palmeiro on fastballs measuring 91 and 92 mph, respectively.
He downshifted in the second, striking out Ricky Ledee, Mike Lamb and Pedro Valdes on changeups of 80, 79, and 81 mph. They would have had a better chance of log rolling up the Colorado rapids.
When the Sox left the bases loaded with nobody out in the second, it looked like Martinez would have to toss another shutout to prevail. But the Sox finally scored some runs for him, allowing him to concentrate on throwing the ball over the plate without the pressure of having to be perfect.
Pedro, as we’ve learned, is quite good at that.
Lou Merloni, himself a recent hero with his .560 average since returning from Japan, poked a check swing double down the right field line to plate Nomar Garciaparra with the first run of a three-run third. An inning later, Merloni blew open the game by softly lining a changeup to left to drive in two.
Those runs left Pedro passing out cigars in the Red Sox dugout like a new father. With a 9-0 lead after four innings, he could take it easy. Which he did.
“I think my teammates really took care of the game early,” Martinez said. “After that, just throw strikes, stay healthy. The shoulder feels pretty good. I was kind of testing myself for the first three innings. Once I got run support, I figured I didn’t have to do anything more than I was doing.”
Martinez’s actions were exciting; his postgame words less so. Perhaps it’s just a case of an artist setting his standards exceptionally high. Perhaps he’s still hurting.
He starts again Thursday in Kansas City. Stay tuned.