Big night at the Fens. When it started, fans were still asking, "Where's Nomar?" But when it was over, they were no longer wondering, "Where's Pedro?"
Boston's ace of diamonds returned with a flourish last night. Hair sprouting out from under his cap like black Brillo, Pedro Martinez was his old, gunslinging, "here-it-is-try-and-hit-it" self. The K cards were hoisted and the big board flashed "94 MPH" as the San Diego Padres kept swinging and missing in their first-ever appearance at Fenway Park.
It was an old-fashioned pitcher's duel, featuring Martinez and David Wells, two guys who were chucking in the eighth inning of Game 7 in New York last Oct. 16. Wells, last seen here when he beat the Sox in Game 5 of that fateful series, left with a six-hit shutout in the sixth. Meanwhile, Pedro pitched eight innings of two-hit, shutout baseball, striking out eight, with one walk in a 1-0 victory over the first-place Padres. An old-fashioned Martinez masterpiece.
Was it the Pedro of old?
"With the way the weather is going and the way I felt the last three outings, I don't see why not," said Martinez. "Tonight was a great game. A game you can dream of."
General manager Theo Epstein added, "That's the best fastball he's had all year. Not that that's the most important thing, but since people talk about it when it's not so good, we should mention it tonight. He had electric stuff."
Pedro's 115th and final pitch resulted in a pop to shallow right by Khalil Greene, ending the eighth inning and triggering chants of "Pe-dro, Pe-dro," as Martinez walked toward the dugout. After that, it was "Sweet Caroline," followed by Keith Foulke's 1-2-3 ninth, which flowed into "Dirty Water" and the Dropkick Murphys' "Tesse." The game took only 2 hours and 27 minutes, a nifty start to the Sox' interleague play in 2004.
You could see from the beginning that this was the Pedro of yore. After giving up a one-out single to Mark "Get Back" Loretta in the first, he froze the next two batters, getting Brian Giles and Phil Nevin on called third strikes. There were none of those curveball cookies he threw to Vladimir Guerrero in last week's 11-hit, seven-run outing in Anaheim. The heat was back. The location was back.
"Location is huge for any pitcher," said manager Terry Francona. "He changed speeds and located. He pitched like you're supposed to. Nothing ever surprises him. He got them out tonight efficiently."
Martinez and pitching coach Dave Wallace cited a mechanical correction made when Pedro threw in the bullpen in Kansas City over the weekend. Martinez said he was rushing his front leg during his delivery, something he noticed while reviewing videotape. The correction obviously worked.
Last night marked only the second time in 13 starts that Pedro did not allow a run, but this was more impressive than his seven shutout innings against the Yankees. He finished the eighth inning for the first time this year, throwing a total of 115 pitches, 74 for strikes.
He got defensive help in the form of a great catch by Manny Ramirez in the third and a perfect pick-and-throw by still-shortstop Pokey Reese, getting Jay Payton on a grounder up the middle to end the fourth.
And speaking of shortstop . . . It seems we have gone from "No, No Nanette," to "No, No Nomar."
No story about last night's events at Fenway would be complete without some discussion regarding Nomar Garciaparra. Early in the day, word trickled out of the Red Sox offices that Nomar would not play at Fenway last night. He went to Pawtucket, where he was hitless in three at-bats over six innings.
And when will he return? Maybe tonight. Maybe tomorrow night. Maybe Friday. Maybe not.
"For someone to say they're surprised he's not here, I'm not sure it's fair," said Francona. "We have never once . . ."
The manager didn't have to finish the thought. In fact, no one in the Red Sox organization or the Garciaparra Camp (two separate and distinct entities) ever specified that Nomar would return last night from the mysterious Achilles' tendinitis that has put him on the shelf for the first nine weeks of the season. CEO Larry Lucchino came close on "Sports Final" Sunday night, then backed away.
Sox fans weren't the only ones disappointed with Nomar's delay. The New York Times, which has $75 million invested in the Sox, has its crack correspondent in town to chronicle the return of Nomar and protect the company interests. Now it looks like the Times's Jack Curry will be held hostage like the rest of us. Life isn't easy on the Nomar Watch.
Even without Nomie, it was a night of history at Fenway. The Padres have been in existence for 35 years, with a rich tradition tracing back to the golden days of Cito Gaston and Nate Colbert (who could forgot those brown and yellow UPS uniforms?). Bruce Hurst, Lou Merloni, and Rod Beck left Boston to later play for the Padres. Dick Williams managed the Padres long after he managed the Red Sox. Half of the current Sox front office used to work for the Padres, including Tom Werner, who owned the team, and Lucchino, who loves taking bows for building Petco Park.
Current Sox players are not as well-versed in the modern-day Padres. Late yesterday afternoon, Johnny Damon -- who wound up knocking in the game's only run with a seventh-inning double -- was walking about the clubhouse asking, "Does anyone know who plays for San Diego this year?"
They do now. David Wells is a Padre. He still can pitch. Sean Burroughs, Mark Loretta, Brian Giles, Phil Nevin, Jay Payton, and Terrence Long are Padres. They're the hitters who couldn't do a thing with Pedro Martinez last night.
Just like the old days.
Dan Shaughnessy is a Globe columnist. His e-mail address is email@example.com.