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Martinez targets himself for the most blame

NEW YORK -- In the city that loves to hate Pedro Martinez, the sellout crowd at Yankee Stadium suffered only one minor disappointment yesterday. It came after Martinez walked John Olerud in the sixth inning. The free pass followed Jorge Posada's home run, a shot that landed just a few feet inside the left-field foul pole.

As Olerud made his way to first, pitching coach Dave Wallace and the Red Sox infield, made their way to the mound. As the group huddled around Martinez, fans began the taunting chant of "Ped-ro, Ped-ro," hoping the ace would unceremoniously exit the game.

But somewhat to the surprise of the Yankee faithful, who had watched Martinez infamously overstay his welcome in Game 7 of the American League Championship Series last fall, the righthander remained on the mound. The fans booed, but soon cheered as Martinez failed to record an out against the bottom of the Yankees order. He was removed after giving up a two-run single to Miguel Cairo. Martinez, who gave up eight earned runs on eight hits, three walks, and four strikeouts, left to lusty jeers.

Following the 11-1 Yankees victory, Martinez was the first to acknowledge he pitched poorly.

"I'm unhappy [with my performance]," said Martinez. "I wasn't actually hitting my targets and made a couple mistakes. Some of them were good pitches they hit, but some of the others were just my fault. They came out aggressive and swinging. They found some pitches around there that they could hit. The wind played a big factor in some of the hit balls, and after that, it was all history."

Speaking of history, the Yankees-Martinez rivalry has provided a seemingly endless supply of unusual drama. From a verbal slam of Babe Ruth in 2001 to the actual throwdown of then-Yankees coach Don Zimmer in Game 3 of the 2003 ALCS, Martinez often winds up at the center of both the strange and remarkable. Yesterday, it was the ignominious. The eight runs allowed marked a career high for Martinez against the Yankees and tied a season high. And the righthander allowed three home runs for the first time since June 26, 2002, against Cleveland.

Gary Sheffield started the Yankee barrage with a two-run homer in the first. Derek Jeter led off the third with a first-pitch home run. With the Yankees getting to him early and often, Martinez struggled to establish any sense of rhythm.

"That's one of the best offenses in the game," said Martinez. "If you make a mistake around the plate with those guys, they're going to hurt you. Believe me, I don't expect anything less with those guys."

With regard to more recent history, Martinez traced his difficulties against New York to control problems that have plagued his last couple starts. In his loss to Tampa Bay last week, the ace walked five, just the 11th time in his career he has walked five or more. Martinez has lost consecutive starts for the first time since June 2002.

"I wasn't really expecting anything weird to happen, I was actually just trying to pitch my game, regain control of my stuff, which I didn't have my previous game," said Martinez, who had no idea why the YES network reported he had problems with his back. "It's coming along, but it's not quite there yet and I need to do more work.

"I never felt the ball right in my hand, even though I threw some good breaking balls, and at times, [even though] I would throw some good changeups, it wasn't really the feeling I normally get on the pitches. The last couple of games I've struggled with my control. This game I felt a little bit better, but not quite there yet."

The Red Sox are not quite there yet when it comes to a playoff berth. But Martinez doesn't care whether Boston wins the AL East or takes the wild-card spot. Losing the last game of the weekend series did not diminish the ace's confidence.

"If we get to the playoffs, believe me, we're not going to be the ones that are scared," said Martinez.

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