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Vintage Pedro? No, but he reached back and delivered

ANAHEIM, Calif. -- If things go according to plan, Pedro Martinez's next start will be Tuesday or Wednesday night in New York and a lot of wiseguys will be wearing T-shirts that say, "Who's Your Daddy?"

The Sox' "other" ace did not dominate, but he did his job last night. Pedro shut down the Angels on six hits and three runs in seven innings, beating Anaheim, 8-3 to give Boston a 2-0 Division Series lead with a chance to eliminate the Halos at Fenway this weekend. Martinez's 116-pitch effort ended his four-game losing streak and should silence critics who questioned his status and stuff in the wake of his September slump.

"I ate my ego," he said, when asked about being Boston's No. 2 starter for this series. "I swallowed it. To me, any time they give me the ball I am special. I am No. 1 . . . And enough of the trash that we [Curt Schilling and Martinez] don't get along. We get along great. Please don't try to break that up, and make stuff up. That's not true."

Martinez's performance was a relief for the Nation. Pedro's supposed to be the other bookend holding up the Red Sox rotation. He's supposed to be the second barrel in the Sox' shotgun staff. No team still playing baseball has two starters as good as Curt Schilling and Pedro Martinez, and that's why the Sox think they are going to the 2004 World Series.

But there was unusual concern regarding Martinez before the second game of this series. After seven seasons and 117 Red Sox victories and all those standing ovations and Dominican flags, Sox fans held their breath, not knowing what to expect when Pedro took the mound.

Odd. The man has won two Cy Young Awards for Boston. From Day One, he was more popular than Roger Clemens in our town. His clock-stopping, six-inning, playoff no-hitter out of the bullpen in Cleveland in 1999 was the stuff of children's book legend. By any yardstick, he is one of the top pitchers in the history of the franchise. He won 16 games this year and ranked second in the American League with 227 strikeouts.

But the certainty and the swagger dissolved in September. Pedro lost his last four starts and gave up 20 runs in his final 23 1/3 innings of the regular season. As a result, Sox fans and assorted armchair psychologists (like talk show folk and nitwit columnists) pondered the erstwhile ace's crisis of confidence.

The theories:

* Pedro's pride (Pedro is a proud man in case you missed the one million prior references to this point) is hurt because he's yielded the title of "ace" to Schilling, who was superior in every way this year. There's certainly evidence of some jealousy and some Sox watchers have tried to read body language in an effort to prove there's tension between the two.

* Pedro is tired. He made all of his (33) starts this year, pitching 217 innings, a number he hasn't topped since 1998, his first year in Boston. This would explain his inability to put hitters away in September.

* Pedro will be 33 at the end of the month and is experiencing the normal physical erosion that comes with age. Happens to all of us (check the deterioration on the mug at the top of this column).

* He's mentally taxed by his inability to beat the Yankees (the Sox are 11-19 in Pedro's starts against the Bombers). That's where this late-season slump took root. He got booed in New York when the Yanks waxed him for eight runs and he had to be lifted in mid-inning. Bronx cheers rained down on his curly head and he was truly hurt, a surprising reaction for a man who has pitched in parts of 13 big league seasons. His next start was the only one of his final four which was solid, but the effort was wasted by Terry Francona's Grady Moment in the eighth inning. Then came the "the Yankees are my daddy" remark. ("I wish everybody would fall asleep for that one," he admitted after last night's game).

* His contract status is playing on his mind. Pedro is a free agent. He's going to want more money than Schilling ($12.5 million next year) and the Sox won't go there. He's going to want at least three years guaranteed and the Sox will only offer two. This means that every start, including last night's, could be his last appearance for the Red Sox.

* The hair is out of control.

He looked fairly comfortable in the early innings. The Angels scored on a walk and a couple of soft hits in the second, but there was no further damage until strange things happened in the fifth.

Wideload Jose Molina led with a routine fly into shallow left, but there was miscommunication between Orlando Cabrera and Manny Ramirez and the ball dropped for a hit. David Eckstein cracked a single to center, then with one out, Pedro hit Darin Erstad to load the bases. After throwing a 94 mile-per-hour fastball to Vladimir Guerrero, Pedro grooved another fastball and Guerrero scorched a two-run single to center. Martinez got out of the jam when Garret Anderson lined into a double play.

The Sox fought back from the 3-1 deficit, tying the game on Jason Varitek's homer, then taking the lead on Ramirez's sacrifice fly in the top of the seventh. Martinez had thrown 91 pitches when he came out for the bottom of the seventh. Mike Timlin and Mike Myers were warming up in the bullpen.

After an obligatory appearance from the Rally Monkey, pinch hitter Casey Kotchman lined out to Martinez. Eckstein then fouled off eight pitches, single-handedly taking Pedro past the magic 105 number before flying out to left. Sox playoff MVP Chone Figgins worked the count to 3-and-2, fouled off several pitches, then swung and missed at a 93-m.p.h. fastball. It was Pedro's 116th and final pitch.

"I've been there," he said. "No big surprise. I'm back to where I've been. I just struggled at the end of the season. I know the postseason would get my adrenaline going."

He pointed to the heavens as he walked off -- just as he did after the successful seventh in New York last October. He hugged his teammates when he got to the dugout. Schilling came over to whisper something in his ear. The Sox manager did not ask Martinez to come back out for the eighth. This year, Timlin got the call.

Pedro was done. Boston's "other" ace had done his job.

See you in Yankee Stadium.

Dan Shaughnessy is a Globe columnist. His e-mail address is

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