Pedro. We have been spoiled. So ridiculously spoiled. In 1999 and 2000, Pedro Martinez put together the best back-to-back seasons that any pitcher has ever had. If you want to find a pitcher who towered over his peers to the extent Martinez did in 2000, you'd have to go back to when the mound was still only 45 feet from the plate.
In 2000, the AL ERA was 4.97; Pedro's was 1.74. Forty years from now, when young fans look at those eye-popping numbers and beg us to tell them about the Pedro games we saw, we can take our dusty VHS tapes and CD-Rs out of the closet and tell our stories.
Yesterday afternoon, Pedro gave us another gem, silencing the nay-sayers and doubters yet again. He threw 109 pitches, allowing six hits and no walks. He also struck out 10 -- moving past Bob Feller (2,581) and Warren Spahn (2,583) into 21st place on the all-time list with 2,590 strikeouts -- and into a tie with Sandy Koufax for 4th in double-figure strikeout games with 97. It was Pedro's first shutout in 106 starts, since he one-hit the Devil Rays back on August 29, 2000 (Carl Everett had a double, triple and 2 home runs in that game!). It was his 42nd complete game (and first of this season) and 16th career shutout.
Martinez surrendered a leadoff double to Aubrey Huff in the ninth, but the crowd's chant of "Pe-dro! Pe-dro!" only got louder. He was over-throwing and went to his first 3-ball count of the game on Rocco Baldelli (NESN had ball 3 clocked at 95), but got him to swing and miss a pitch way outside. Tino Martinez popped up a full-count pitch to second before Pedro sent everyone home happy by whipping a 1-2 fastball past Jose Cruz. The game lasted a crisp 2:23.
Once again, the Red Sox played excellent defense. In the top of the first, Carl Crawford lined Martinez's fourth pitch of the game to right field. But Kevin Millar raced to his left and cut the ball off, before it rolled into the corner for a possible triple or home run. Crawford was held to a measly single. The inning ended with Crawford on third, the only Tampa Bay runner to get that far all afternoon. Only two other runners reached second.
Baldelli 4, Sveum 0. The afternoon was not perfect, however. Yesterday, two runners were thrown out at the plate on successive hits in the fifth inning. Bravo to Dale Sveum, who is following in the footsteps of Rene Lachemann and Wendell Kim. As Garry Brown notes, those two gentlemen "were noted for waving runners home and having them cut down, often by embarrassingly large margins." Brown claims that Sveum was "not entirely [to blame], because the throws came from Rocco Baldelli."
I'd say that is more reason to blame Sveum. Baldelli has a gun in center field, he was fielding both hits in shallow center and was lined up for perfect throws home. And Sveum was burned by him just last week. The first time, on Jason Varitek's single, Baldelli threw an absolute seed -- on the fly -- to nail Kevin Millar. Orlando Cabrera then singled to center and Baldelli again made a text-book throw; catcher Toby Hall took a hit from Varitek (ending up with a black eye and an abrasion on his cheek), but held onto the ball for the out.
At some point -- and I hope it's soon -- Sveum will understand that Baldelli is not just getting lucky out there; he's got a missle launcher for an arm. He has nine assists this season and four of them have come in the last six games against Boston. Yikes. ... Sveum received a mock standing ovation in the next inning when he held Bill Mueller at third on Kevin Youkilis's hit to left. ... If Sveum does prep work before games, it doesn't show. Time and again, he seems clueless when it comes to calculating the situation, who is on the bases and how fast they can run, who is in the outfield and how strong their arms are, who is coming up for the Sox and weighing the risk versus the number of outs. (I will admit that a case can be made for sending Varitek with 2 outs.) ... I fear Sveum in the playoffs; one bonehead decision could take the Red Sox out of a short series.
Scoring Update: Johnny Damon asked the official scorer to give him an error on what was ruled a double by Tino Martinez on Wednesday night. That erased two earned runs from Derek Lowe's line, lowering his ERA from 5.47 to 5.33. ... David Heuschkel of the Courant reports: "It's looking like Trot Nixon won't be back this season. Francona said Nixon isn't really close to getting back to doing baseball activity and it would be September at best before he does." ... Both Mark Bellhorn and Pokey Reese are at least a couple weeks from returning. ... Scott Williamson will have another MRI on his right elbow in Cincinnati today. The results should tell us whether we can expect him back this season.
Boston has won 7 of 10 and are 13 games over .500 for the first time this season. They lead the wild card race by 1 game over Anaheim and 2 over Texas. The match-ups for the White Sox series:
Friday: Tim Wakefield (8-6, 4.48) / Jose Contreras (9-5, 5.17)
Saturday: Curt Schilling (13-6, 3.61) / Jon Garland (8-8, 4.70)
Sunday: Bronson Arroyo (5-8, 4.14) / Mark Buehrle (10-5, 3.83)