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Martinez angered by doubters

Placing another brick in the wall, Pedro Martinez yesterday angrily reacted to hearing doubts raised about his recent illness and vowed to restrict his conversations for the rest of his Red Sox days only to his teammates.

Martinez suggested his integrity was wrongly impugned partly because he is Dominican, as the three-time Cy Young Award winner's relationship with the media, if not a segment of Sox fandom, took another turn for the worse.

Martinez's growing unhappiness raised the question of just how many days remain in his tenure with the Sox -- he further told a veteran Boston radio reporter last night in an interview that was not tape-recorded that he would not play in Boston past his current contract -- and prompted principal owner John W. Henry to rush to his ace's defense. Martinez, who in a brief interview announced his stepped-up ban on public discourse, emphasized talk radio as a source of doubts about his integrity concerning his illness.

In April, the Sox exercised a $17.5 million option in Martinez's contract for next season. He would be eligible for free agency after that season. Henry, asked if he were concerned about signing Martinez beyond next year, said, "Yes, if he takes a few fans calling in on the radio personally."

WBZ's Jon Miller quoted Martinez as saying he was so outraged by doubts about his honesty that he would not return to the Sox after next season. "I will make $17.5 [million]," Martinez said, according to Miller, "and then I'm out of here."

Henry said, "That would be tragic," though Sox spokesman Kevin Shea said Martinez denied making the statement to Miller.

The owner said he planned to open contract discussions after the season aimed at keeping Martinez and Nomar Garciaparra in Boston beyond 2004.

Martinez was diagnosed Thursday with pharyngitis, a severe throat inflammation, that caused him to miss his scheduled start that day. He spent nearly six hours at St. Elizabeth's Medical Center, where he ran a fever of 101 and was treated intravenously for dehydration. So Martinez bristled at suggestions, generally voiced by radio callers or commentators, that he may not have been sick.

"If that's what people are saying, I'd be irate, too," Henry said. "It makes me angry. If that's what they're saying, it's preposterous. It's ridiculous because he gives his all. He puts his heart and soul into every start, and to accuse him of potentially missing a big start by faking an illness, that's heinous."

Henry said he did not see Martinez's integrity questioned by any newspaper.

"It must be talk radio," he said. "It happens in every market. It's not just Boston. Talk radio in every market, if you ask players around the league, they will say it's full of complaining and whining. It's everywhere."

Henry said he has not had any substantive talks with Martinez since spring training but planned to speak with him about his latest source of anger.

"Back in March, Pedro was saying he loves Boston and definitely wants to finish his career here," Henry said. "We haven't talked a lot during the season. He's generally either very focused or he's having fun, creating a light-hearted atmosphere, which I think is great, like Kevin Millar and a few other guys."

The owner said he was baffled anyone would suggest Martinez would concoct a phony illness to skip a start.

"I can't imagine people would think that," he said. "When he has a big start, there's no bigger gamer on this staff than Pedro. You would think every fan in New England knows how badly Pedro wants to win. He doesn't want to come out of a ballgame. We're all aware of that."

What's more, Henry said, "I'm not calling Pedro's reaction an overreaction because if somebody takes issue with Pedro's heart, if I were Pedro, I would be very angry about that."

Henry suggested he will try to persuade Martinez not to take too seriously what he may hear -- or be told someone has heard -- on talk radio.

"I'll talk to him, but I think one thing we have to understand is that when people call into talk radio, they speculate about everything and anything," said Henry, who occasionally calls talk radio stations. "That's why I myself call in -- they call me `John on the car phone' -- to try to get them a little bit back on track."

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