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Martinez Baffles Angels

He strikes out Salmon with the bases loaded for game's final out in the Red Sox's 4-2 victory.

August 07, 2003|Bill Shaikin | Times Staff Writer

BOSTON — Bertucci's makes some of the best pizza in Boston. As the popular local chain prepares to open its newest outlet near Fenway Park, fans heading to the Red Sox game exit the subway station and face a huge Bertucci's ad.

"We Make More Dough Than Pedro," the ad reads.

But the good citizens of New England would gladly swear off pepperoni if Pedro Martinez could pitch the Red Sox to their first World Series victory since 1918.

Martinez makes $15 million this season. After he pitched a complete game and struck out 11 in Boston's 4-2 victory Wednesday, the Angels would agree he is worth every penny.

If the playoffs started today, the Red Sox would be in, against the Seattle Mariners, with a true ace to open the series. His career record against the American League West is almost perfect, at 32-3.

He was not perfect Wednesday, not even close. The Angels got 10 hits. They left seven men in scoring position.

But dominance is not measured in 1-2-3 innings alone. Martinez won on will.

With two out in the ninth, the Angels scored an unearned run and then loaded the bases, with the potential tying and winning runs on base.

Martinez remained in the game and struck out Tim Salmon, with his final fastball clocked at 96 mph and his pitch count at 128.

"To be an elite pitcher in this league, it's about more than just stuff," Angel Manager Mike Scioscia said. "Makeup has a lot to do with it, and savvy, and experience. Pedro has the total package."

The Angels were not thrilled by the called third strike on Salmon. Actually, they were appalled. "Go over there and rip that ... umpire," one coach suggested to reporters.

Although the pitch appeared high and outside, Salmon was not as offended.

"It's like when Percy [Angel closer Troy Percival] comes in," Salmon said. "Sometimes, late in the game, those guys get those pitches. That goes with the territory. You tip your hat. You halfway expect it."

Garret Anderson, who had three hits in 26 previous at-bats against Martinez, had three Wednesday, including a run-scoring double. David Eckstein had no hits in 13 at-bats against Martinez before doubles in the seventh and ninth. Rookie Robb Quinlan singled twice.

Still, every Angel except Eckstein struck out at least once. Said Quinlan: "That's the best stuff I've ever seen."

Granted, Quinlan was facing the Tucson Sidewinders two weeks ago. But even the grizzled Angels marveled at Martinez's ability to tease with breaking balls in the early innings, then focus on his fastball late, with his first pitch to Salmon at 94 mph and the final two at 96, as hard as he was clocked all night.

"Holy cow," Salmon said. "The guy's throwing that hard in the ninth inning?"

Martinez (8-2) has not lost since May 9. Angel starter Aaron Sele (6-9) is winless in his last four starts, though the Angels have not scored more than two runs in any of them.

Sele gave up three runs in 5 1/3 innings, good enough on many nights when the opposing pitcher is not named Pedro.

"You're talking about one of the upper-echelon pitchers that's ever played the game," Sele said. "He's definitely one of the top two, maybe the best pitcher in the game right now."

The fans cherish baseball here. They appreciate greatness in their midst.

In the seventh inning, with two out and two strikes on Darin Erstad, the sellout crowd rewarded Martinez with a standing ovation. In the eighth, with two out and two strikes on Scott Spiezio, the crowd delivered another standing ovation.

When Martinez took the mound for the ninth, he got another. With two out and two strikes on Salmon, he got another.

"We're fans too," Sele said. "When I took my break, I was watching him pitch. You wish it was on TV -- against somebody else."

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