Baseball fans along for the ride at Pedro's Playground


By the ninth inning, Camden Yards was Pedro's Playground."Let's Go Pe-dro!" the fans chanted, rising each time Pedro Martinez went to two strikes on their beloved Orioles."It's almost starting to get like that in every city we go into," Boston Red Sox pitching coach Joe Kerrigan said. "People realize now that they're not going to see anything like this in their lifetime."

Two hits, 15 strikeouts, no walks. A 9-0 shutout of the Orioles. And it's like that almost every time Martinez walks to the mound.

Kerrigan, a pitcher for the Orioles in 1978 and '80, joked with former teammate Jim Palmer before the game, telling the Hall of Famer, "You were pretty good. But watch this guy tonight."

Reminded of their conversation afterward, Kerrigan just smiled."Cakes was pretty good," he said, referring to Palmer by his nickname. "But this guy's on another planet."

Martinez last night tied Luis Tiant of the Cleveland Indians for the American League record for most strikeouts in two consecutive games (32).

He opened with four perfect innings, and finished by retiring his last 14 hitters, striking out six of his last seven.

It was one of the two best pitching performances in Camden Yards history - Mike Mussina retired his first 25 hitters against Cleveland on May 30, 1997.

Here's all you need to know about Martinez's dominance and the state of the Orioles' beleaguered pitching staff:

The Orioles in the past 10 games have allowed more earned runs (72) than Martinez has allowed since the start of the 1999 season (55).

No wonder the sellout crowd of 48,354 was so appreciative.

Winning over the battered masses at Camden Yards isn't the same as winning over the Red Sox haters at Yankee Stadium, which Martinez did with a 17-strikeout, one-hitter last Sept.10.

But just as Cal Ripken is touched every time he receives a warm reception on the road, Martinez was touched by the crowd."It makes me feel proud," Martinez said. "I feel really happy to see that the people here appreciate what's good. Not only are they rooting for their team, they're also rooting for the good things that happen in baseball. They recognize them. It's really nice to see that. I can tell now that this is a baseball town."

Fans lined up five-deep behind the Red Sox dugout as Martinez was interviewed on the field afterward by Home Team Sports' Tom Davis.

When the interview was over, Martinez borrowed a pen from a policeman, signed a baseball and walked to the far end of the dugout to hand it to a fan."A big fan of mine, I guess," Martinez said. "She showed me her jersey. It had Martinez on the back. I said, 'Tomorrow I'll sign it.' She thought I said, 'Throw it [the baseball] over. So I signed it and gave it back to her."

He left the field to cheers, waving with his left hand, then pumping his fist. And he indicated afterward that his best might be yet to come.

Catcher Jason Varitek seemed to dismiss that notion, telling reporters, "I've got only one thing to say - that's the best display of pitching I've ever been a part of."

But when Martinez was asked if he had the same feeling he had in his Yankee Stadium masterpiece in September, he responded, "Nope.""I just haven't felt comfortable yet," Martinez said. "I'm doing my job. I feel good enough to go out there and compete and beat anybody. But I haven't felt like I did feel in that game. That game was one good easy night."

What, then, was this game?

Martinez threw 113 pitches, dismissing the Orioles in a mere 2hours, 17minutes. He's 6-1 with a 1.01 ERA, and in his one loss, he struck out 17.

Once upon a time, the Los Angeles Dodgers traded Martinez to the Montreal Expos for Delino DeShields.

It's just a guess, but the Dodgers would probably like that one back.

Plate umpire Terry Craft said Martinez actually grew stronger after allowing his only two hits, a leadoff single by Albert Belle and one-out single by Jeff Conine in the fifth inning.

Belle's hit came on a changeup, Conine's on a curveball. But as the game progressed, Craft said that Martinez relied on his fastball with two strikes."He gives us a chance to be consistent, because he's consistent," Craft said. "It's a pleasure for an umpire."

Kerrigan said Martinez topped out at 97 mph on the Red Sox's radar gun, and consistently hit 95.

Was Kerrigan thinking perfect game after four?

"Once he got through their lineup once, that entered my mind," the pitching coach said. "I've got to be honest, I thought about it."

Of course, the magical evening was made possible only by the shenanigans revolving around Martinez's five-game suspension for hitting Roberto Alomar.

Former Orioles great Frank Robinson, major-league baseball's new lord of discipline, issued the suspension.

Martinez appealed, struck out 17 in a 1-0 loss to Tampa Bay, then dropped his appeal and served his suspension without missing a start.

He rejoined the Red Sox just in time to face the Orioles on an extra day's rest - a sham of a punishment, and Robinson knows it."It's something that will have to be talked about," Robinson said. "If the starting pitcher does not miss a turn, then the suspension is not effective."

Of course, Martinez would have pitched against the Orioles eventually this season. And last night was a chance to see the master at his best."Let's go Pe-dro!" the crowd chanted.

It's not just Camden Yards.

Right now, every park in the league is Pedro's Playground.

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