Martinez has Phils' and foes' respect

Posted: October 28, 2009

NEW YORK — For somebody who didn't pitch his first major-league game this season until Aug. 12, Phillies righthander Pedro Martinez could have a profound influence on this World Series. Martinez was named to start Game 2 tomorrow at Yankee Stadium.

Even though Martinez turned 38 on Sunday, he has looked much younger, especially in the NLCS, when he threw seven shutout innings and received a no-decision in a 2-1 loss to the Los Angeles Dodgers.

Martinez would not be the oldest pitcher to win a World Series game. That distinction belongs to Dolf Luque, who was 43 when he captured the deciding Game 5 over the Washington Senators in relief for the New York Giants. That was 1933, well before even Martinez was born.

People around baseball say Martinez's success at this advanced pitching age has as much to do with his mind as his arm.

Other than two shutout appearances covering six innings for the Dominican Republic during the World Baseball Classic in March, Martinez was out of baseball until signing with the Phillies on July 15. Now he's ready to resume his rivalry with the Yankees, a team he faced six times during American League Championship Series in 1999, 2003 and 2004.

So even though Martinez doesn't throw 96 m.p.h., the way he did during his heyday when he claimed three Cy Young Awards, he's still baffling hitters, frequently winning the mind games while making the requisite adjustments.

"He has tremendous wisdom, and it's almost like he is in every hitter's mind and understands what they are trying to do and what they are looking for," Phillies pitching coach Rich Dubee said before yesterday's workout at Yankee Stadium. "I don't know if it's just the experience he has gained or something he was born naturally with, but he has just tremendous vision of what is going on in the course of a game."

Martinez can still throw his fastball in the low 90s, but it's the way he uses both sides of the plate, keeping hitters guessing, that allows him to be effective despite a little less pop on his heater.

While Martinez said yesterday that he did not want to give away his pitching secrets, he conceded that making adjustments has been the key to his success.

"The whole game is about adjustments," he said. "When you throw high, start coming low, and when you go away, come in."

Martinez is always looking for the edge.

"I make adjustments in the middle of the game and invent little things in the middle of the game to try to get an edge and win the ball game," Martinez said. "If it's legal. I will try to do it, and it's all about making adjustments, and if you don't, you will end up on the wrong side of the column."

Many pitchers of advanced age aren't able to make these adjustments because they are used to pitching one way. "When he had that fastball back in the day with his command, he was unhittable," said Yankees left fielder Johnny Damon, a former teammate of Martinez's in Boston at a time when Pedro stoked the Red Sox-Yankees rivalry by unceremoniously dumping 72-year-old Yankees bench coach Don Zimmer during a bench-clearing altercation in the 2003 ALCS.

"He was one of those guys that you couldn't sleep at night knowing you were facing him the next day. He has learned how to pitch a lot better now and that is why he had success against the Dodgers."

"He's pitching great, his velocity is up and he's pitching with a lot of confidence," said Yankees third baseman Alex Rodriguez, who is hitting .438 with five home runs and 12 RBIs this postseason. "Pedro has always been a big-game pitcher."

"He doesn't think he needs 96 to get you out," Dubee said. "He thinks he can get anybody out in any situation of the game, and that is the biggest part of it."

Contact staff writer Marc Narducci at 856-779-3225 or mnarducci@phillynews.com.

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