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Bauman: Pedro a fascinating figure

Bauman: Pedro a fascinating figure

NEW YORK -- Baseball could use another Pedro Martinez or several additional pitchers with this much talent, intelligence and flair, for that matter. It could use more of the pitching mastery and more of the personality, too.

I know, I know, Yankees fans don't like him, or despise him, or something in there. This just proves how good he has been, how central he has been, or as he would put it himself, how "influential" he has been.

He was pitching for the Red Sox when they finally overcame eight-plus decades of failure and beat the Yankees in something that counted. He could have been an Eagle Scout pitching for Boston in that case and Yankees fans would have detested him. But he wasn't an Eagle Scout, and there was the thing with Don Zimmer, so he has no shortage of detractors among Yankees adherents.

Pedro likes the spotlight and he does not deflect the white-hot glare of public attention with doses of false modesty. He likes playing the lead role. If he were a Shakespearean actor, he would be "Hamlet" and "King Lear" and "Macbeth" and maybe "The Merchant of Venice." He is not as inherently tragic as those dudes, but he would dominate the drama and the stage in the way that those characters do.

"The big stage" is a buzz phrase for the 2009 postseason, as in "he likes the big stage." Earlier in the year the Yankees were saying that A.J. Burnett liked the big stage, which was interesting because he had not appeared in a postseason game until this October. Based on his subsequent postseason, there were times when he liked the big stage and times, such as Game 5 of the World Series, when he didn't.

Not only does Pedro Martinez like the big stage, the big stage likes him. And the big stage can't get much bigger than it will Wednesday night, Game 6 of the 2009 World Series, Martinez trying to keep the Philadelphia Phillies alive, trying to give his team a shot at a Game 7 and another World Series championship.

ON THE ROPES
After Monday's Game 5 victory, the Phillies are 2-4 when facing elimination in the World Series.
Year Opp Game Result
2009 NYY Game 5 W, 8-6
1993 TOR Game 5 W, 2-0
1993 TOR Game 6 L, 8-6
1983 BAL Game 5 L, 5-0
1950 NYY Game 4 L, 5-2
1915 BOS Game 5 L, 5-4

As a pitcher, Pedro Martinez is obviously not what he once was. But then nobody else is what Pedro Martinez once was, either. He was an astounding blend of power and precision. From the mid-1990s into the early years of this century, nobody on the mound was better. Nobody. Greg Maddux was tremendous but he was not better. Roger Clemens, no matter what he was using, was not better. Randy Johnson had the best argument over time, based on talent and then later on longevity, but in Pedro's peak years, even Johnson could not be said to occupy a higher level.

Now at 38, Pedro has not pitched anything like a full season since 2005. There were no takers for his services at his desired price at the outset of the 2009 season. But his situation and the Phillies' need for another starter or two dovetailed and he joined them in mid-August.

He had a brilliant start against the Dodgers in the National League Championship Series -- two hits over seven innings -- and he had a start against the Yankees in Game 2 in which he pitched well but wore down a bit, gave up three runs in six innings and took the loss.

Before Game 2, Pedro had a remarkable interview session in which he critiqued his treatment by the New York media over the years. He was angry, he was aggrieved. He had been "used" and "abused" by the Gotham media, and thus misunderstood by the public that had been subjected to years of this biased, anti-Pedro reporting.

On Tuesday at Yankee Stadium, it was another interview session but a different Pedro. He was humble and community-spirited, thankful to have been granted this wonderful opportunity. He asked members of the media in advance to help him out in his post-baseball career doing good works in the community. When he was asked about the controversies with Yankees fans, he said he was sorry, but he wanted to stay in the present.

What range this man has. He's like Omar Vizquel at shortstop at the peak of his career. He can do it all, he can get to everything. He went all the way from angry superstar in the one interview to Mother Teresa with a better pitch selection in the next one.

2009 World Series
Gm. 1 PHI 6, NYY 1 Wrap Video
Gm. 2 NYY 3, PHI 1 Wrap Video
Gm. 3 NYY 8, PHI 5 Wrap Video
Gm. 4 NYY 7, PHI 4 Wrap Video
Gm. 5 PHI 8, NYY 6 Wrap Video
Gm. 6 NYY 7, PHI 3 Wrap Video

This guy is a galvanizing personality and that is good for baseball. It does not particularly matter who likes him or does not like him. He is a compelling character -- maybe slightly less compelling overall than he was at his pitching prime, but still way above the national average.

He is more articulate and thoughtful in his second language than many people are in their first. Whether he is on your team and you are pulling for him, or he is playing for the bad guys and you can't stand him, he is a presence.

The last time Pedro addressed the assembled reporters, he was in a righteous anger. This time he was still in a righteous frame of mind, but it was mild and grateful.

"I look at this situation as a blessing," he said of pitching the all-important Game 6. "I mean, what else would I want? I'm doing the job I love. ... I don't have enough words to describe how excited I am about being here. This is just a great gift to me. This is a blessing."

The game needs more of him, even though there don't appear to be any more of him. There aren't that many pitchers walking around with a .687 lifetime winning percentage, but that's just the half of it. Pedro Martinez still draws a crowd, because one way or another he is always worth the price of admission.

Mike Bauman is a national columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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