P. Martinez relieves Sox, casts spell over Bambino


CLEVELAND -- It will go down as one of the most inspiring performances of postseason history: six innings of no-hit relief by a pitcher who could throw only one minute because of a strained back muscle two days before.

Pedro Martinez is special. The Boston Red Sox are special. And the Cleveland Indians, the seventh team in major-league history to score 1,000 runs, couldn't win a slugfest when it mattered most against a team with only one offensive star.

The Curse of the Bambino has been temporarily suspended by the Magic of Pedro, and now the Red Sox will play their ancient rivals, the New York Yankees, in the American League Championship Series.

"I decided I was the one who had to be out there," Martinez said.

And so he persevered through the Red Sox's 12-8 victory, even though he was less than 100 percent, even though he couldn't throw his fastball at full velocity, even though his back tightened in the final two innings.

As if Boston's comeback from a two-games-to-none deficit isn't enough to digest, the legend carved by Martinez last night was nearly matched by the offensive performance of teammate Troy O'Leary.

Twice, soon-to-be-former Indians manager Mike Hargrove ordered an intentional walk to Nomar Garciaparra with first base open. And twice, O'Leary responded with a home run on the next pitch.

Garciaparra hit a two-run homer in the first inning, and had burned the Indians repeatedly this season when pitched to with a base open. So, Hargrove opted for unfavorable right-left match ups against a hitter who entered the game 2-for-16 in the series.

That didn't work, either.

O'Leary is a .326 hitter with runners in scoring position. His first homer -- the first grand slam in Red Sox postseason history -- put Boston ahead 7-5. His second, a three-run shot, gave Boston an 11-8 lead.

To think, O'Leary was 0-for-5 in the Red Sox's 23-7 victory in Game 4. His recovery last night was typical of this group. Since 1918, the year the Red Sox last won the World Series, it has always been something with this team. But this season, it has always been somebody -- somebody good.

"You talk about an MVP for our team in this series," manager Jimy Williams said. "I'd have to say it's the whole team."

Yet, with the Red Sox getting only 2 2/3 innings out of their starters in games 4 and 5, the discussion certainly starts with Martinez, who entered last night's game in the fourth inning with the score tied, 8-8.

"He came out, he was hurt and he pitched like the Cy Young winner that he is," O'Leary said in the interview room, with Martinez at his side. "He gave a good performance out there."

"Thank you. Just like you," Martinez responded. "To me, all of you are MVPs."

After Game 4, Martinez expressed optimism that he might be ready to pitch in the deciding game, but Red Sox pitching coach Joe Kerrigan seemed to dismiss the possibility, calling it "unrealistic."

All that changed with the season on the line.

Red Sox general manager Dan Duquette indicated that Martinez was available late yesterday afternoon, declaring, "It's time to win." And after Jim Thome's second homer gave Cleveland an 8-7 lead in the third inning, Martinez began warming in the bullpen.

He replaced reliever Derek Lowe after the Red Sox tied the score and shut out the Indians' hitters the rest of the way, striking out eight, walking three.

"His velocity wasn't the 95, 96 [mph] we're used to seeing him throw," Hargrove said. "But he spotted his fastball well. He threw a couple of 93s, some good off-speed pitches, some changeups. He pitched and he made his pitches when he needed to. That's what he's done all year long."

Only this night was different.

This night added to the Martinez legend.

"I wasn't thinking about coming out," he said. "I knew I couldn't push myself to throw my fastball as hard as I could. I just laid the ball over, made good pitches, hit the spots."

And now we look forward to Red Sox-Yankees, a far more interesting ALCS than Indians-Yankees would have been, and not simply because of the rivalry that dates to Boston's sale of Babe Ruth to New York in 1919.

With Martinez healthy, the Sox should present more of a challenge than the Indians, who allowed 44 runs in the final 21 innings of this series, and lost Kenny Lofton last night with a dislocated left shoulder.

Williams said he had no idea who would start Game 1, but Pat Rapp would appear to be the leading candidate. Ramon Martinez then could come back on normal rest for Game 2. If healthy, Pedro could pitch Game 3 -- and Game 7, if necessary.

"I wasn't going to let go. I wasn't going to," Pedro Martinez said. "I decided that I was going to be out there and whatever happened, happened. If they decided to take me out in the middle of an inning, I would do that, but I had to be out there as long as I could."

And so he was, striking out Omar Vizquel to end the game.

The Curse of the Bambino remains a formidable obstacle for the Red Sox, an explanation for 81 years of October torment. But the Magic of Pedro possesses its own power.

The Red Sox head to the House That Ruth Built for a meeting with destiny, a meeting with history. A meeting that no one expected, that was made possible only by one Pedro Martinez.

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