Sports Sportsin partnership with NESN your connection to The Boston Globe

Martinez an answer machine

Red Sox ace shows his stuff by confounding Blue Jays with ease

Any more questions?

Pedro Martinez, who has been peppered all spring with queries about his arm slot, velocity, and ability to succeed after his 105th pitch, last night submitted a sweeping response. The Red Sox ace, in his first home start in the final year of his seven-year, $90 million contract, limited the Blue Jays to one run on four hits, two walks, and a hit batsman over 7 2/3 innings as he led his injury-riddled club to a 4-1 victory before an bedazzled 35,305 at Fenway Park.

"It was exactly what we needed," catcher Jason Varitek said. "It was an awesome pitching performance. He stepped it up when his team needed him most."

Outdueling Roy Halladay, the reigning Cy Young Award winner, Martinez mixed his rich array of pitches with a fastball that hit between 87-91 miles per hour to stymie the Jays. These were the same Jays who thumped him for six runs on eight hits, including two homers, before he could retire a batter in his final exhibition outing in Florida.

Martinez knew how badly the beleaguered Sox pen needed him to pitch deep into the game.

"I just tried to pick up my relievers," he said through the team's public relations director, Glenn Geffner. "They needed an outing like that from me, and I thank God I could deliver for them."

Martinez left little doubt he has yet to regain the dazzling speed of his signature fastball, but he showed again why he may not need it. For every bit of velocity he may have lost, even temporarily, he seems to have compensated by improving as a pitcher.

"I just hope people recognize that you can't panic when he doesn't have an incredible night," said right fielder Gabe Kapler, who made a spectacular catch behind Martinez. "It's unfair to Pedro to take a decent night and turn it into a nightmare. He sets such a high standard for himself that it's difficult for people to appreciate it when he has just an OK night for Pedro, which is a tremendous night for many, many people around the league."

Martinez allowed only one of the 29 batters he faced past first base as he struck out seven and otherwise perplexed the Jays. The only Toronto batter to reach second base was Orlando Hudson, who launched a solo homer in the seventh. And Martinez, who last year allowed batters to hit .364 after his 105th pitch -- an issue that dominated hot stove discussions after his role in the Game 7 disaster against the Yankees in last season's ALCS -- used his 106th pitch of the game (a 91-m.p.h. fastball) to fan Frank Catalanotto for the second out of the eighth.

While Martinez maintained his public silence afterward, his pal, David Ortiz, whose two-run homer off Halladay provided all the runs the Sox needed, opened a window on why the team's ace has appeared hurt at times this spring: The team has not reached an agreement beyond this year with Martinez as he approaches free agency.

"Pedro likes this city and this ball club so much it bugs him not to know if he is going to stick around next year or it bugs him not to know that as good as he is, he's not under contract [beyond this year]," Ortiz said. "That's what hurts him the most."

Manager Terry Francona made clear that as highly as the Sox regard Martinez, they do not plan to allow him to go much deeper than about 105 pitches. The manager indicated the plan is based on a number of factors, including Martinez's past performances when he threw more than 105 pitches and the team's interest in protecting his physical health the entire year.

So, even though Martinez appeared as strong on his 106th pitch as he did on his first, Francona replaced him with closer Keith Foulke with two outs and a runner on first in the eighth.

"I told him he did a whale of a job," Francona said, "and Foulke will finish it up for him."

At that, Foulke made his Fenway debut for the Sox and picked up his second save. He allowed only a harmless single.

In addition to Ortiz's homer, the Sox added solo shots by Mark Bellhorn and Manny Ramirez. Bellhorn went deep off Halladay, Ramirez off Aquilino Lopez. Ramirez indicated he has never lost faith in Martinez. Though Martinez's performance Opening Night in Baltimore drew a measure of criticism, Ramirez was impressed with how well he threw with the windchill in the 20s.

"When we were in Baltimore, I don't know how those guys pitched," Ramirez said. "I couldn't throw the ball to the cutoff man."

Kapler took issue with critics who say Martinez has forever lost his heater.

"I think it's jumping the gun to say he's lost anything," Kapler said. "I really, really do. I think you're going to see 93s and 94s throughout the season."

Martinez and Halladay were locked in a scoreless stalemate in the sixth when the Sox finally broke through, thanks in part to Cesar Crespo. The utilityman, playing center field for the injured Johnny Damon, dived into first base to narrowly beat out a grounder leading off. "Before the game, [bullpen catcher Dana] Levangie told me I need to get on base no matter what because you score most of your runs off Halladay when he pitches from the stretch," Crespo said. "That's all I was trying to do, get on base no matter what."

He was forced out on Bill Mueller's grounder, but Ortiz capitalized by launching a 1-2 curveball from Halladay over the Sox pen for a two-run shot.

Ortiz was rejuvenated after almost sleep-walking through Friday night's game after the team's long-delayed return flight from Baltimore.

"[Friday] was a horrible day," Ortiz said. "I'm not going to lie to you. By the fifth or sixth inning, I was dead. I went home after the game and laid on my bed and crashed into today."

Then he crashed into Halladay's curveball.

red sox extras
Today (free)
Yesterday (free)
Past 30 days
Last 12 months
 Advanced search / Historic Archives