NEW YORK - The legend was born in the summer of 1988, on an otherwise anonymous field in the small town of La Vega, Dominican Republic.
Ralph Avila was scheduled to provide color commentary on the radio broadcast that day, and he was worried sick. The way Avila tells it, the Dodgers' Dominican Summer League team, the squad he played a big role in cobbling together, was set to face the Detroit Tigers' entry in the decisive game of the best-of-three championship series.
The previous day, the Dodgers had exhausted all pitching options, leaving no choice but to put the ball in the hands of an undersized 16-year-old who was so young the team was uncomfortable letting him throw breaking balls.
"I was scared to death," said Avila, who at the time ran the Dodgers' academy in the Dominican Republic. "All the players Detroit had down here had more experience, were much older."
But as Avila would later write in a scouting report that today is on display in Cooperstown, Pedro Martinez was no ordinary 16-year-old. He finished six innings, then seven, finally relinquishing the ball with one out in the ninth inning and the Dodgers on their way to the DSL title.
"His make-up was great," Avila said yesterday from his home in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. "He's not afraid of nothing. He's not afraid to throw the ball over the plate because he thought that he can overmatch every guy. He wasn't afraid of anybody."
Tomorrow, 21 years after Martinez first climbed aboard his rocketship to fame, those same attributes will bring him to the biggest stage in sports.
There is a reason the Phillies decided yesterday to entrust the second game of their repeat bid to a 37-year-old righthander who has not started a postseason game since 2004, and not the 25-year-old lefthander who went 4-0 last postseason while earning MVP honors in the NLCS and World Series.
It was on display throughout the storied prime of his career, when he won three Cy Youngs and a World Series. It was on display when he threw 130 pitches in eight scoreless innings of a must-win game against the Mets in September. And it was on display 11 days ago in the NLCS, when Martinez tossed seven scoreless innings in front of a hostile crowd at Dodger Stadium after going 17 days without throwing a meaningful pitch.
"Pedro's played in this atmosphere," pitching coach Rich Dubee said. "He's as good as anybody at controlling his mannerisms on the mound and in a visiting stadium. And generally with Pedro, I think the bigger the lights, the better he is."
There is nothing like October baseball in the Bronx, which the Phillies realized yesterday in their first visit to Yankee Stadium since a series in May. On the cover of the New York Post was a picture of centerfielder Shane Victorino dressed as a cheerleader. Filling the pages of the local papers were all the reasons why the Phillies should lose.
In tapping Martinez for Game 2, thereby relegating 2008 postseason hero Cole Hamels to Game 3, the Phillies provided a tacit acknowledgment of the circuslike atmosphere that many expect will accompany this World Series.
While Hamels has shown visible signs of frustration during his three mediocre postseason starts, visibly huffing after a booted groundball in Game 1 of the NLCS and slamming his glove in the dugout after lasting just 4 1/3 innings of Game 5, Martinez has coasted through the postseason with the same carefree attitude that has marked his career. Even Hamels yesterday admitted that his struggles this postseason - he has allowed 11 runs, including six home runs, in 14 2/3 innings - were more mental than physical. Martinez, on the other hand, shrugged.
"This is not a dream," said Martinez, who last pitched in the World Series in 2004 with the Red Sox. "This is reality, a reality that very few have the opportunity to live. I'm one of the blessed ones who actually lived it, and realized it, more than once."
Johnny Damon, now a Yankees outfielder, is not surprised to be facing his former Boston teammate.
"The energy that he brought to the fans, I've never quite seen anything like that before and may never see it again," Damon said. "When he was set to take the mound over at Fenway, the fans would be at the stadium early just to see him walk out to the bullpen and see him get ready and cheer for him when he walked to the dugout and got ready for the game. I've never seen it before. I mean, you're talking about fans being out there 30 minutes before just waiting for that moment. It was pretty special."
The fans will be there again tomorrow. Back in Florida, the man who discovered him will watch.
"I remember the report that I sent to the Dodger organization," Avila said. "I've found good pitchers before and my report was we got a real good kid.
"It's a diamond that we had to polish."
Tomorrow, the diamond once again gets a chance to shine.
Rich Dubee said the team has not discussed starting lefthander Cliff Lee in Game 4 on 3 days' rest, something the Yankees likely will do with CC Sabathia . . . The Phillies have not announced a Game 4 starter, although lefthander J.A. Happ will be used as a reliever for the foreseeable future. Righthander Joe Blanton started Game 4 of the NLCS.