No second-guessing for Torre: Wilson the man
The Mariners may start crying for mommy when they see that Pedro Martinez will be pitching, but not the Yankees. New York is now 8-8 with seven no-decisions against him since Pedro left Montreal and arrived in Boston.
And they've even got their own certified Pedro killer, the renowned Enrique Wilson.
The 30-year-old Dominican utility player entered yesterday's game with a .213 average. But he was 6 for 16 lifetime against Martinez, and that's why Joe Torre penciled him in to bat ninth and play second base in place of Alfonso Soriano (3 for 28 against the Boston righthander). "Boy, am I smart," joshed the skipper after Wilson had the first two of his three hits off Pedro during the Yankees' 10-7 triumph yesterday. "Enrique Wilson, he was magic. He did everything perfectly."
`I just try to make contact with him," said Wilson. "If you try to hit home runs off Pedro, you're not going to have good success. I just try to put the ball in play."
Martinez has had his big games against the Yankees -- if you were there the night he fanned 17 Yankees in '99 you may have seen the best pitching performance you'll see in your entire life -- but not too many lately. More than any other team, they make him work.
There may not be another team in the American League psychologically capable of spotting Martinez three runs. The score was 3-0, Boston, entering the third. Twenty-eight Pedro pitches later it was 3-2. David Ortiz hit his 23d homer to make it 4-2, but Pedro couldn't hold that, either, giving up three more runs in a 32-pitch fourth.
The Yankee highlight was a 10-pitch at-bat by young first baseman Nick Johnson, who went 4 for 5 with four runs batted in. The lefthanded hitter came into the bigs with a reputation as an unusually discerning hitter, and he has more than lived up to his hype. He entered the game with a .438 on-base percentage, and the Fenway Faithful now can see why after watching him foul off five consecutive Martinez offerings before lining a tie-breaking single to left-center. In terms of scientific hitting, this kid is 24 going on 37.
"He's got the best swing, and he sees the ball the best [on this team]," gushed Gene Michael, the Yankee guru's guru. "He sees it the way I wish I could have seen it, the way I always wanted to."
In one stretch of 11 batters, covering the third and fourth innings, nine guys hit the ball with a severity that ranged from authoritative to I Hope It Doesn't Land On The Hood Sign. The last was a home run by Jorge Posada that landed frighteningly deep in the right-field seats. It was the first of two mighty wallops for the switch-hitting catcher, who later would launch a Byung Hyun Kim pitch onto the black seats in dead center. And that one didn't just crawl over the wall, either.
However healthy Pedro was or wasn't, he's already beaten one team in his post-illness state without his best stuff. But it simply isn't the same when he faces New York, a team that is not intimidated by the thought of the three-time Cy Young winner on the mound.
Torre had established the parameters before the game.
"I think we make him work," Torre had said. "First of all, we respect him, but we try not to get overwhelmed by him. You've got to be able to get a walk, move the runner over, and do whatever's necessary. He'll give you a pitch to hit. Not as many as other people, but when he does you've got to take advantage. He's going to throw strikes, so your approach can't be, `Oh my God, we're facing Pedro.' We've been lucky to grind it out against him."
And, of course, Torre had his secret weapon: Wilson.
"You want to get him into a game," Torre said. "But it's not something [for him] to look forward to. `It's my game of the week and I get to go against Pedro!' But just watching Wilson the last couple of times vs. Pedro, you can't ignore it. It's just the quality of the at-bats."
There were many quality at-bats for both teams in this entertaining game, but more of them belonged to the Yankees, who have now accomplished what they needed to do when they got here. Getting one game means they leave Boston with no-harm, no-foul. They can afford to drop a game in the standings. They would not have liked dropping three. Getting the second game of the series means the pressure is off.
"This felt like the second, third, and fourth game of the series," said Torre. "It's all about momentum when you play series. I've always felt -- not too many people agree with me because you go in there and you say, `I want to win the first game' -- that the second game is the key. Again, it doesn't mean you don't want to win the first game.
"It's all about momentum. Today was all about Pedro. He gets a three-run lead on us. These guys were a little quiet for a while, but all of a sudden they came to life. Posada, who has not hit Pedro at all the last two times we faced him up here, did a hell of a job."
Sox manager Grady Little maintained that Martinez was not 100 percent physically, and that's almost undoubtedly the case. But what happened yesterday was not an isolated example. The Yankees may not exactly own Pedro, but they aren't afraid of him, either.
Now they can put Enrique Wilson back on the shelf until next Friday night, when Pedro is scheduled to face them again. Which is all right with the Pedro-killing Mr. Wilson, who is neither the boat-rocking type, nor overly analytical when it comes to explaining his success against Martinez.
"I don't know how I do it," he said. "I'm just happy to be here."
© Copyright 2003 Globe Newspaper Company.