Out with a Sigh
It was an ugly one yesterday.
Even now, there's just something about Pedro Martinez that rivets me.
When Derek Lowe pitches poorly, my feeling is one of pure, unadulterated frustration. Dammit Derek, I think, gritting my teeth, as he fidgets on the mound, you are one useless motherfucker.
When Pedro Martinez pitches poorly, I feel as though I'm watching something tragic on a Shakespearean level. The mighty conqueror brought low. King Lear raving on his dark throne. Lady MacBeth wondering how the dagger betrayed her. Merlin falling into the abyss.
There has been something otherworldly about Pedro from the beginning. Where Curt Schilling pumps his fist and yells like Russel Crowe in a swords-and-sandals epic, clearly the avenger but still, as yet, clearly human, Pedro quietly points to the sky, kissing his right hand before offering it up. He has always seemed at least in communication with, if not drawing his power from, the unseen.
It has seemed, as well, that the Pedro Martinez that carries midgets through the dugout is also carrying that Great Pedro Martinez, that Hall of Fame Pedro Martinez, wearing him like clothes out on the mound, shedding him again when he needs to lead a (halfway) normal life.
So when he loads the bases in the fourth inning, it seems as though Pedro goes double for a moment, and the transparent apparition of that Vintage Pedro has torn himself away, and left the mound, leaving that everyday Pedro out there to face the music, the Wizard of Oz exposed behind the curtain.
And then, for some reason, just for a brief flash, it's back. He bears down and strikes out the side, his face flat and coldly terrifying, and when he blows a strike by a helplessly swinging batter it's as if the ball simply disappears halfway to the plate. There it is! you think excitedly. We are finally rid of Impostor Pedro.
In the dugout he's like a headstrong Thoroughbred, tossing his head and avoiding Dave Wallace's attempts to catch his eye. Wallace talks rapidly, and Pedro's eyes dart first left, then right; he turns his head and Wallace lays both hands on his shoulders, a last-ditch effort to settle him, and I know that in past years the idea of a mortal laying hands on Pedro Martinez may have elicited gasps from the rest of the bench and fans alike.
Finally, with Wallace refusing to return to respectable distance, Pedro trains that icy gaze on him, and you can read his lips: I am not coming out in the fourth.
Byung-Hyun Kim is warming apologetically off in the distance. When the inning changes again, though, Pedro is emerging from the dugout, putting on his red glove.
There it is, you think again. That fiercely proud, competitor's spirit. The Great Pedro Martinez has taken over, defying his coach, defying his own performance in the early innings, and he's about to blow away batters like the Pedro of Old.
Check that. He's about to give up two more runs before finally being lifted in favor of Mike Myers.
What has happened?
Pedro's face as Devil Rays round the bases is blank, his expression distant and sullen. Whenever another disaster occurs--a 1-2 count that turns into a single or a double off the wall instead of an emphatic strikeout as has been the custom--the camera coasts in quickly for a tight closeup of his face, showing his upturned eyes or slow, perturbed licks of his lips as if they were some signal that would explain the situation.
The relative simplicity of the game of baseball is its most cutting weapon. It's easy to explain what happened last night--the Tampa Bay Devil Rays scored more runs than the Red Sox. Pedro Martinez gave up more runs than the other guy. That's that.
But of course that isn't enough. Pedro has lost four games in a row for the first time ever in seven years with the Red Sox. Where before a 1-2 count meant certain death for whoever dared enter the batters' box against him, today it might mean nothing.
There's a kind of aching absence here--but of what? Some breath of magic that used to inhabit the right arm of Pedro Jaime Martinez of Manoguayabo, Dominican Republic? The divine intervention that made his 1999 season possible? Has the god, or ghost, that made him now turned away from him? And why?
What's terrifying is that Pedro himself has been devastatingly candid about his state of being. "Call the Yankees my daddies" are five words that will certainly live in infamy. But if you've been listening, he's been saying things all along that grow steadily more difficult to hear.
Last night, framed by a forest of microphones and tape recorders, a light-blue T-shirt stretched over his small but chiseled shoulders, Pedro--the Pedro who has often spoken with so much guile and ruthless wit, the Pedro that has made me remark on more than one occasion, but not without affection, "What a bitch!"--said, and I quote, "I could actually pitch fifth or not at all in the playoffs if I continue to pitch like the way I am."
Gulping, a reporter tried to switch the subject by asking him about whether or not he was bearing down more in the fourth inning to get the side with the bases loaded. "I should have been bearing down a little earlier," Pedro chortled, swiping one hand across his eyes like a child sheepish about forgetting his homework.
What has happened?
While trading Nomar did not rob the Red Sox of their soul, whatever has abandoned Pedro Martinez threatens to. It's abandoned us, too.