Boston Red Sox ace Pedro Martinez staved off a pending five-game suspension just long enough to deliver one of the most overpowering performances of his career yesterday, for all the good it did him.
Martinez tied a career high with 17 strikeouts, but the Tampa Bay Devil Rays ended his 11-game regular-season winning streak with a taut 1-0 victory at sold-out Fenway Park.
Devil Rays starter Steve Trachsel pitched a three-hit shutout and outfielder Greg Vaughn delivered a run-scoring single in the eighth inning to make it good, but the last-place Devil Rays added little more than an interesting subplot to what has been a very eventful week for Martinez.
He was suspended for five games by Major League Baseball vice president of on-field operations Frank Robinson for his part in a brushback exchange with the Cleveland Indians last Sunday, but appealed the ruling so that he could make his scheduled start yesterday. Immediately after the game, he dropped the appeal and began serving the suspension, which will carry through the opener of a four-game series against the Orioles next weekend at Camden Yards.
What a severe penalty! Martinez's turn in the rotation would have fallen on Thursday night, but instead he will start the second game of the series on Friday - probably against Orioles No. 2 starter Sidney Ponson. The signifi "'That was one of those old-time pitching duels. You don't see those too often anymore."
Joe Kerrigan, Boston pitching coach cance of the disciplinary action is further diminished by the fact that the Red Sox prefer to pitch Martinez on five days' rest anyway.
'This was the most common sense way to resolve the issue," said Red Sox general manager Dan Duquette. "Although we felt he had a strong case [for appeal], he wanted to make his next start in the rotation. By withdrawing the appeal, he can take five days off and start Friday in Baltimore."
The Orioles might have preferred he stand on principle. His appeal hearing with MLB chief operating officer Paul Beeston was scheduled to take place on Wednesday in Boston. If the suspension had been upheld, Martinez likely would have missed the Orioles series.
Martinez was suspended for hitting Indians second baseman Roberto Alomar with a pitch on Sunday in apparent retaliation for a pitch by Cleveland starter Charles Nagy that struck Boston infielder Jose Offerman earlier in the game. Nagy, who was reacting to an earlier alleged brushback pitch by Martinez, was only fined.
Though the Red Sox clearly have manipulated the situation to minimize the impact of the suspension, Duquette reiterated the club's disappointment with Robinson's decision.
'The proper thing to do was eject Nagy when he hit our player," Duquette said.
The normally talkative Martinez would not comment on the suspension or the decision to drop the appeal. He limited his postgame comments to yesterday's performance, which dropped his record to 5-1 but improved his ERA to 1.22.
"I've been in a few of those ... that's OK," Martinez said. "You just have to tip your hat to Trachsel and the other team. I'll appreciate it if it's going to be like that. I have no regrets. I would take that outing any time."
The loss was his first since he came up short against the Oakland A's last Aug. 19. The 11-game winning streak does not include his two postseason victories last year.
'That was one of those old-time pitching duels," said Red Sox pitching coach Joe Kerrigan. "You don't see those too often anymore."
It was, in fact, the third 1-0 game in the majors this year, and the Red Sox and Devil Rays were each involved in one of the others. The Red Sox lost a 1-0 decision to the A's on April 17 and the Devil Rays defeated the Anaheim Angels by that score on April 23.
Martinez was nearly unhittable on the way to his second Cy Young Award last year and he has picked up right where he left off. He has allowed two earned runs or fewer in each of his six starts this season, but there was some question whether the controversy - and the resultant criticism of him - might affect his concentration.
"I think it was really hard to get focused," he said sarcastically. "You could see that by the results."