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pedro martinez

For Better or Worse, a Chance to Say Good-bye to Pedro

Before Game 2 of the World Series, we reviewed Pedro Martinez's previous playoff tussles with the Yankees and suggested that he could be relied upon to keep things interesting. Not to pat ourselves on the back, but we were completely right about this.

Pedro was good last Thursday. He was not the sinewy menace who dominated the era of comic book hero-size sluggers. (His fastball reached 90 mph only four times.) But he was good enough to throw Mark Teixeira four consecutive change-ups, each a little slower than the last, and to then strike him out on an even slower curveball. Pedro played similar mind games with Yankee hitters for most of the night, until his arm began to tire in the sixth. On his first 96 pitches, he struck out eight and allowed only three hits and one run. On his final eleven, he struck out none and allowed three hits and two runs.

But Pedro's most compelling performances last week came away from the mound. As always, he was alternately prickly and sweet, aggressive and retiring, and consistently self-serving. As he left the game Thursday night, he paused to reprimand a Yankee fan on his parenting. "I remember one guy sitting right in front of the front row," he explained afterward, "his daughter in one arm, and a cup of beer in the other hand, and saying all kinds of nasty stuff. I just told him, 'Your daughter is right beside you. It's a little girl. It's a shame you're saying all these things.'" The remarks continued a strong moral streak from his press conference the day before, when he repeatedly drew a bright line between fans, players, and the press as Fans, Players, and Press ... and fans, players, and the press as Human Beings.

The highlight was this gem: "I remember quotes in the paper, 'Here comes the man that New York loves to hate.' Man? None of you have probably ever eaten steak with me or rice and beans with me to understand what the man is about. You might say the player, the competitor, but the man?" Pedro also suggested, not entirely implausibly, that, thanks to the same media, he might be "the most influential player that ever stepped in Yankee Stadium." Okay, not that plausible, but as opposing players go, he's in the conversation. And if he gets the win tonight ... well, let's not get ahead of ourselves.

Still, we can say that, in all likelihood, this will be Pedro's final playoff appearance, and perhaps last of any kind, against the Yankees. If the Phillies win the Series, Pedro has suggested you look him up in the Dominican this time next year. If the Yankees win, it's a long road back for everyone. So, if you can manage it between the heart palpitations tonight, try to take a second to appreciate this last chance, as Pedro put it yesterday, to "see two old goats out there doing the best they can and having fun with it." Players (and, yes, people) like him don't come along every day. Besides, he'd be sad if you waited until it was too late: "I don't want to die and then hear everybody say, 'Oh, there goes one of the best players ever.' If you're going to give me props, just give them to me right now."

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Photo: Getty Images