09/30/2003 6:44 PM ET
Red Sox put their faith in Martinez
Boston has ace healthy and pitching at his very best
OAKLAND -- The Red Sox don't just have their ace on the mound for Game 1 of the Division Series against the A's. They have the man regarded in most baseball circles as the ace among aces.
By Ian Browne / MLB.com
They have Pedro Martinez in 100 percent health, and pitching his best baseball of the season.
"There's no better guy you'd want going Game 1 for you then him," Sox catcher Jason Varitek said. "He's a guy we want to set the tone for us."
As for just how supremely confident Martinez might be heading into this series -- which kicks off Wednesday night at Network Associates Coliseum -- the three-time Cy Young Award winner didn't choose to share those comments with the national media.
Martinez, who hasn't spoken on the record since July, opted not to change that pattern on the eve of the postseason.
Just call him the silent assassin. Martinez does plenty of talking with the array of filthy stuff that comes out of his invaluable right arm.
In September, Martinez quite simply was feeling it. In his last five starts, he was 4-0 with an 0.82 ERA.
"Pedro's the best I've seen him in two years right now," said Sox manager Grady Little. "There's no one else we'd rather have on the mound."
The A's would probably say the same thing about Tim Hudson, who starts Game 1. In fact, Hudson outdueled Martinez in a 4-0 victory on Aug. 11.
But take the body of work over the last seven years and Martinez is probably the best there's been, though Randy Johnson -- who was hindered by injuries this year -- would probably have an argument.
What sets Martinez above virtually everyone else?
"He's got great stuff and add that with a great ability to pitch and a huge competitiveness, and you've got Pedro," said Varitek.
What that added up to this season was a 14-4 record, an AL-leading 2.22 ERA and 206 strikeouts. All of this in just 29 outings and 186 2/3 innings.
Martinez's overall workload was cut a little short by a strained muscle in his right side that landed him on the disabled list in mid-May, as well as a severe throat infection that forced him out of a start in August.
But those annoying obstacles during the season could actually be a blessing as he's about to pitch his most important game in four years.
"Pedro's the best I've seen him in two years right now. There's no one else we'd rather have on the mound."
-- Grady Little
A fresh and healthy Pedro is an even more daunting Pedro than usual to the opposition.
He has risen to the occasion at this time of year in the past.
Who could forget his six no-hit innings out of the bullpen in clinching Game 5 of the Division Series against Cleveland in 1999. Just think, Martinez wasn't even healthy that night.
"He ended the season healthy and he's throwing the ball well," Varitek said. "To be able to go out there with a healthy mind and a strong body, I like what he can bring."
What he brings is a fastball that doesn't have the high 90s bite of a couple of years ago, but has pinpoint location. What he also brings is what is arguably the best change-up in the game.
Throw in his curve, his cutter and his thorough knowledge of himself and his opponents, and you have an artist who is all but impossible to replicate.
The few times Martinez has pitched in postseason, he's been virtually untouchable. In four appearances, he's 3-0 with a 1.13 ERA.
"It would be huge to win Game 1 and we have our best going," Sox second baseman Todd Walker said. "I'm sure he's feeling pretty confident and good about himself."
Which, in turn, makes the Red Sox feel pretty confident and good about themselves.
Ian Browne is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.