He battled hard.
These are the words that characterize Pedro Martinez’s last grab at glory, and they are the words that no athlete wants to read about himself on the morning after. When the analysts say you battled hard, what they’re trying not to say is that you’re an over-the-hill superstar who got slapped around in the biggest game of the year.
That wouldn’t be a kind thing to say, especially about a guy who’s given so much to the game and provided so much entertainment to the fans. It would be true; old Pedro did get his keister kicked, which resulted in the Yankees winning their 27th World Series. But it would be like telling that blind date your sister set you up with that she sweats less than any fat girl you know. True and nice are not synonyms.
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And so we say that when his team needed him most, when the Phillies needed the crafty veteran to extend their season for one more day, he battled hard.
Yech! The more you repeat those words, the more hideous they sound. It’s a great thing to tell a 6-year-old after a soccer game, but to one of the best who ever played the game, it’s the same as saying, “Man, did you stink.”
Nice tries don’t count at this time of year. Nobody cares how hard you battled if you don’t win.
Pedro knows that. Yeah, he gave it everything he had, which is what you expect. He just didn’t have all that much.
It was supposed to be set up for Pedro to be a hero one more time against the team that has played such a huge part in his career. Andy Pettitte, who had struggled in a Game 3 victory, was pitching on three day’s rest. Pedro, who had pitched very well in a Game 2 loss, was throwing on full rest. It should have been advantage Pedro.
But Martinez arrived at Yankee Stadium without his fastball. In the parlance of the game, he wasn’t throwing hard enough to splash water. At times, you were tempted to say that glaciers move with a greater sense of urgency than Pedro’s fastball did on Wednesday night in the Bronx. The ball traveled so slowly, it arrived at the plate with dust on it.
Here’s where that nasty battling hard stuff comes in. Despite his lack of velocity, Pedro gave up just three hits in four innings. His downfall was that one of them was a two-run home run by Hideki Matsui and another was a two-run single by the aforementioned Yankee DH.
In short, in the critical moments that separate winning from losing, Pedro Martinez failed.
If he wanted to, he could take cold comfort in the fact that the Philadelphia pitchers who followed him battled just as hard as he did, surrendering three more runs in the fifth inning to give the Yankees a 7-1 lead. Pettitte eventually hit his wall in the sixth, giving up two runs in that inning to go with one he surrendered in the third. But those runs didn’t even make the score respectable.
Pedro’s pretty philosophical about baseball and life. He’s not likely to lose sleep over what could be his final act in New York. He’s also not likely to think that just because he couldn’t get past the fourth inning in Game 6 of the World Series, his career is over.
Like so many great athletes, he’ll look at the three hits he gave up and the five Yankees he struck out instead of the four runs he gave up. He’ll rationalize that it was just two pitches that got away from him that caused the damage. And he’ll probably be back with somebody next year.
By the standards of the game, he’s still a decent pitcher; a number three or four starter on most teams. But by the standards he established, he’s a shadow of what he used to be, another aging star of whom it can be said: He throws just as hard as ever; the ball just doesn’t get to the plate as fast as it used to.
You can’t blame him if he wants to hang on. The pay is good and the hours are, too. But he can’t blame us if we say it’s not much fun to watch him fail to do the things that once came so easily to him.
When Pedro took the mound in Game 6 of the World Series, we hoped for one last flash of greatness. Instead we got to watch a guy who battled hard.
And the best you can say abut him is that he was better than Cole Hamels.