09/12/2002 00:15 am ET
Pedro back in form for Red Sox
Ace enjoys successful return from injury
By Paul C. Smith / MLB.com
ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. -- After six solid innings and his 150th career win, Pedro Martinez's focus shifted from his hip to his team's dwindling playoff chances.
"Hopefully, we can still make it," Martinez said. "I feel comfortable enough that I will be able to make the last three or four starts and maybe beyond."
Martinez (18-4), making his first start in two weeks, led the Red Sox to a 6-3 win against Tampa Bay on Wednesday night at Tropicana Field.
"I felt great," Martinez said. "I had a lot of strength in my arm and my leg was OK. In the fourth or fifth inning, I felt a little weak. I struggled with my control but that's to be expected when you don't pitch in a while."
Red Sox manager Grady Little had not planned to let Martinez throw 100 pitches but, after watching him, was confident enough to let Martinez throw 110, 72 for strikes.
"He was kind of feeling his way though the early innings," Little said. "He reached his peak in the fifth and felt good coming out. Tomorrow will be a telling day as far as his hip is concerned. We feel pretty confident about the way he felt after the game."
Jason Varitek said Martinez's outing was very encouraging.
"He was pretty good," Varitek said. "He got out of a tough situation with a runner on third and one out (in the fourth). He was pretty strong and that was nice to see."
Little called the effort by Martinez gutsy.
"It was impressive," Little said. "He was a little rusty and that's when he got behind 3-1 and (John) Flaherty hit (a two-run home run)."
It was Flaherty's first home run in 183 at-bats and only his fourth of the season. But the former Red Sox catcher has hit them off some impressive pitchers besides Martinez: Oakland's Barry Zito and Seattle's Freddy Garcia and Joel Pineiro.
Zito may be the pitcher with the best odds to keep the Cy Young Award away from a Boston pitcher this season.
"I have chances but Derek Lowe and Zito are deserving candidates," Martinez said of the possibility of his fourth Cy Young Award. "But that's not what's important right now. Health is first. Team is first. Getting in the playoffs is first."
Martinez was backed by the big bat of Manny Ramirez, who drilled his 15th career grand slam in the fifth inning.
Ramirez is second among active players in career grand slams to Robin Ventura, who has 16. Ramirez also is 6-for-13 in three games against the Rays and has two doubles, three homers and eight RBIs since he failed to run out a ground ball on Monday night.
"It was getting to a crucial point for Pedro and Manny got a big hit," Little said.
Ramirez declined to talk to the media after the game, saying only through a spokesman, "I was happy to be able to help the team get a win."
Martinez said Ramirez is upset that the media keeps reporting about the incident on Monday night, even after Ramirez apologized to Little and all his teammates individually.
"Manny just wants to play the last 18 games in peace," Martinez said. "He was running out a foul ball tonight. That is positive, isn't it? He may be in la-la land sometimes but he does want to help the team. He won the game tonight, not for me but for the team."
Paul C. Smith is a reporter for MLB.com and is based in Tampa. He can be reached at email@example.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.