Vintage Pedro

Dan Wetzel
Yahoo! Sports

ST. LOUIS – He once defined the big-game pitcher, the ace of all aces who, even when half the majors were juiced, posted Koufaxian numbers, mowed through all-star lineups, whiffed 17 at Yankee Stadium.

If this were 2000, putting Pedro Martinez on the hill meant you could have written a Boston Red Sox victory in Game 3 of the World Series in stone.

But this is 2004. Martinez has lost his edge, his stamina and a lot of big games to the New York Yankees. No one knew what to expect on Tuesday.

What they got were seven strong, three-hit innings right out of Pedro's past. Thanks to a brilliant night of ole-time Petey, Boston took a 4-1 victory and a 3-0 series lead over St. Louis. The Red Sox can win their first World Series since 1918 on Wednesday night.

"Pedro is the man out there," said Manny Ramirez, who in the first inning drilled a home run and had a huge throw to the plate that gunned down Larry Walker. "We know he's the best pitcher in the league, and we know he can do everything out there."

Actually, he isn't the best pitcher in the league anymore. And he can't do everything these days. But you could hardly tell that on an unseasonably warm (65 degrees), misty night here on the banks of the Mississippi.

If this indeed was Martinez's last outing in a Red Sox uniform (he's a free agent), it was one for the scrapbooks, a one-more-for-the road encore of his greatest hits. He had the mid-90s heater, impossible-to-detect changeup and knee-bending curve.

Once poor baserunning by Jeff Suppan ended a rally in the third, Martinez settled in and essentially ended the game, retiring the final 14 Cardinals he faced. He finished with consecutive strikeouts of Jim Edmonds and Reggie Sanders.

"[After the third] I said, 'It is up me now,'" Martinez said.

When he was lifted following the seventh inning, Boston was up 4-0 thanks to its always relentless hitting. Martinez had sucked all the fun out of Busch Stadium's sea of red.

This was a magnificent performance magnified by both the Series and the fact it comes at the end of a turbulent and emotional season for Martinez. Once Boston's undisputed ace, this year he watched Curt Schilling become the team's best and most popular pitcher.

In September Martinez lost his final four outings, called the New York Yankees his "daddy" and began bringing a midget around the Sox locker room. He also kept struggling to get through the sixth inning.

Martinez should hold an iconic, infallible spot in the hearts of the Red Sox Nation. Instead he was considered the wild card of the team.

"It's been a great ride," Martinez said following Tuesday's performance. "Even with the struggles I've had up and down during the season I enjoyed every minute."

Tuesday he delivered the kind of performance that makes everyone forget about the past.

"I hope it's not the last [game with Boston]," Martinez said. "But if it is, I just want the fans to know I did whatever possible to represent the city and the team. My heart will always be with you."

St. Louis was undefeated in the postseason here at Busch Stadium, so there was a feeling that Boston needed to keep the Cardinals from climbing back into this series in Game 3.

Martinez effectively shut the door.

"Once [he] found his changeup, and used his cutter, and used his fastball, he got in a groove and started pitching like he can pitch," Boston manager Terry Francona said.

After 98 throws Martinez exited to a dugout full of hugs. He eventually ran into Ramirez, the game's other star and team's fellow flake. The two greeted each other by rubbing their long-haired heads together.

It was classic Pedro.

"That was the way we congratulate each other," Martinez smiled. "We told each other we were going to let our hair grow together, and we did. We do it our own way and that's how we are. That's just Manny being Manny and Pedro being Pedro."

Maybe for the last time.