04/20/2002 01:06 am ET
Vintage Martinez dominates Royals
By Ian Browne / MLB.com
KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- In case anyone forgot what vintage Pedro Martinez looks like, it was unleashed Friday night in front of nine Royals' hitters who were basically rendered helpless.
This is what the ace of the Boston Red Sox does when he has full command and confidence. And for the first time in 2002, the three-time Cy Young winner had all of his pitches working with equal effectiveness in a 4-0 victory for the Red Sox.
It added up to eight innings of one-hit, no-walk mastery for Martinez, and an evening full of misery for the Royals.
In past seasons, a performance like this from Martinez wouldn't have been anything unexpected. In fact, some of his fans might have considered it a bit below the norm because there were only six strikeouts.
But he isn't Mr. Automatic these days. Not after the frayed rotator cuff that limited him to 18 starts in 2001.
It was Martinez who described himself as being in "wonderland" heading into his fourth start of the season. The first three had been, in order, a disaster against the Blue Jays, a nice revival in Baltimore, and a mixed bag against the Yankees.
It added up to a 1-0 record and un-Pedro-like 6.91 ERA as he took the Kauffman Stadium mound Friday.
By the time this night was complete, there was relief in the Sox clubhouse and an ERA that dropped even more dramatically (4.43) than Martinez's vaunted changeup.
"He's getting his confidence back, not only that his arm's not going to hurt anymore, but the command of all areas of his pitching game is coming back nearly to where he wants it to be," said Sox manager Grady Little. "He's getting real close. He threw the ball as well as we've seen him in a long time."
For the first time this season, Martinez could reach back and throw whatever pitch he felt like, and have full confidence that it was going right to the desired target established by catcher Jason Varitek.
"Along with the cutter, everything else was coming along," Martinez said. "I found the breaking ball. Everything is coming along. I'm feeling more comfortable and getting my strength again and I'm feeling better overall. Pretty much, I felt like I could throw any pitch tonight, I felt that confident."
And when you have a player of Martinez's magnitude, his confidence tends to spread throughout an entire clubhouse.
"That's a great sign for us," said Sox center fielder Johnny Damon. "He was perfect tonight, and it was great to see. His ball was sinking and cutting real good. His curve was working and he was hitting his spots left and right."
The only hit he gave up was a broken bat single to right-center by Mike Sweeney with two outs in the bottom of the fourth. That came after Martinez allowed his first baserunner, when he dropped a throw from first baseman Tony Clark on a grounder.
For the rest of the night, he cruised, retiring the final 13 hitters he faced.
When Martinez is in that kind of groove, all he needs is a run or two. But the game was scoreless until the top of the sixth, when sizzling Shea Hillenbrand - the unexpected AL RBI leader - smashed a two-out, bases-clearing triple off the wall in right.
From there, the only question is how far into the game Martinez would pitch. He hadn't gone as far as the seventh in his previous three starts.
But his economical if unspectacular approach against the Royals gave him the chance to throw just 94 pitches before bowing out after eight.
As good as the performance was, Martinez couldn't be content. After all, his goal - not to mention the standard he has set for himself -- is to maintain such dominance every fifth day.
"It's not just doing it one game, it's doing it with consistency," said Martinez. "That's what I'm known for. That's what I want to reach and get every time I go out, to be where I belong."
The night also provided a milestone for Martinez, as he recorded the 2,000th strikeout of his career.
"With all the things I had to overcome, (2,000 strikeouts) feels even better," Martinez said. "I just have to thank God and say everything is possible if you have health and God in front of you."
For the Red Sox, anything is possible if the Martinez of Friday night - or anything close -- is the one they get the rest of the season.
Roster move coming Saturday
"It's not just doing it one game, it's doing it with consistency. That's what I'm known for. That's what I want to reach and get every time I go out, to be where I belong."
|- PEDRO MARTINEZ
Before John Burkett makes his first start of the season Saturday night, the Red Sox will have to clear a roster spot for him.
But manager Grady Little wouldn't say whether it would be a pitcher or position player that was removed from the 25-man roster to make way for Burkett, who went on the DL March 26 with inflammation in his right shoulder.
One possibility, albeit a costly one, would be the release of veteran Jose Offerman, whose playing time has diminished greatly this season. In that case, the Sox would have to eat the balance of Offerman's $6.5 million for this season, and pay $2 million to buy out his club option for 2003.
Little wouldn't say if it was realistic to expect such a move.
"He's on this team," said Little, "that's all I can tell you. He got three hits the other day."
Damon: I'll play through it
Following the game, Damon had blood under the nail of his left middle finger. The finger was pelted as he squared to bunt in the sixth inning. He played the rest of the night, without incident.
Damon went to get precautionary X-Rays after the game, but wasn't concerned.
"I can play through it. I'm a throwback," said Damon. "They kept wanting to take me out of the game, but I feel good. The finger doesn't feel great, but it's just a finger. That's a pretty good reason why Boston got me, they know they can play me 162 games. Regardless of if it's broke or not, I'm going to keep playing."
Hermanson return not imminent
Righty Dustin Hermanson continues to wait patiently for progress on his strained right groin, sustained on April 3. He hasn't thrown since he felt a twinge during a side session last weekend.
"I'm just waiting for it to heal," said Hermanson. "I can't speed up time. I'm putting in three or four hours a day working on it."
"The longer it is (to heal)," said Little, "the more rehab starts it will involve."
Ian Browne covers the Red Sox for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the
approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.