He looked so familiar here, on this mound, this lithe, 6-foot-nothing right-hander from the Dominican Republic, rocking back and hurling his whole self into every pitch, unleashing something fast and nasty toward home plate.
Naturally, Carlos Martinez has been called Little Pedro. But like other young, hard-throwing St. Louis Cardinals before him, he is making a name for himself in this postseason, as a reliever for now. He looked every bit like Pedro Martinez on Thursday night, pitching two scoreless innings against the Red Sox in Game 2 of the World Series, preserving the Cardinals’ 4-2 lead.
It just so happened that Pedro Martinez was here, too, having been honoured before the game as part of Boston’s 2004 championship team and welcomed back as a legend.
Afterward, in the corner of the Cardinals’ clubhouse, John Mozeliak, the team’s general manager, explained how Carlos Martinez was actually first a member of the Red Sox. Boston signed him as an amateur free-agent shortstop in February 2009, but because of issues over his name and age, Mozeliak said, the contract was voided about a month later.
Martinez resolved the issues and reinvented himself as a pitcher, Mozeliak said, and about a year after his Boston contract was voided, he signed with St. Louis.
From there, he worked his way through the Cardinals’ system, making an impression with his electric fastball. By 2012, his third year, he was pitching well in Class AA, and Mozeliak wanted to see more of him entering this year.
But because of a work visa issue, Martinez missed spring training and a potential opportunity to stick in the majors. Instead he split his time this season as a starter in the minor leagues and as a reliever for the Cardinals.
They had been grooming him as a starter, yet there was no space for him on their major league staff.
This way, Martinez could continue to start, and tinker. His fastballs – the four-seamer and the sinking two-seamer – regularly hit the upper 90s. But Derek Lilliquist, the pitching coach, helped develop his slider. It is a deceiving pitch, Lilliquist said, because Martinez throws it the same way he does his fastball. They also continued to hone his curveball and changeup, if only to keep hitters honest.
In 16 minor league starts this year, Martinez compiled a 2.49 earned run average. And besides being shelled in a handful of games, he pitched fine with the Cardinals. He earned enough trust to be counted on in the postseason – as a reliever, for now.
“It’s a strong possibility that he’ll be a starter,” Mozeliak said.” I can tell you this: He’s the one guy that when he throws six or seven innings in the minor leagues, he can hold his velocity. So it’s hard to say. He can do anything.”
So, there was 22-year-old Carlos Martinez Thursday night, taking over for Michael Wacha in the bottom of the seventh inning. The Red Sox had just lost the lead, and the whole park seemed anxious. The crowd was eager to see him fail.
Martinez threw four fastballs to the first batter, Jarrod Saltalamacchia, touching 98 miles per hour, striking him out, swinging, on a sinking fastball. Then he blew away Stephen Drew and Xander Bogaerts, getting them both to ground out. Of his 10 pitches that inning, nine were fastballs.
The eighth inning would not be as easy. Jacoby Ellsbury led off and reached safely on an error by the second baseman Matt Carpenter, and Martinez responded by striking out Shane Victorino and Dustin Pedroia. But that brought up David Ortiz, who had homered in the sixth, representing the tying run.
It was the kind of moment Adam Wainwright, the Cardinals’ ace, faced as the team’s rookie closer in the 2006 World Series.
“It’s invaluable experience, getting in big games, pressure moments,” Wainwright said of Martinez, adding, “So when he starts, there won’t be anything he’s scared of.”
With Ortiz up, Cardinals manager Mike Matheny had a decision to make: he could match a left-handed reliever against the lefty Ortiz, or stick with Martinez. It was not an easy call, Matheny later said. But he liked the way Martinez was going.
Martinez reached back for another two-seam fastball, and Ortiz did not hit a home run, but he singled, bringing up Mike Napoli as the go-ahead run. Martinez seemed calm, controlled. It helped having Yadier Molina, perhaps the best catcher in baseball, as a guide. Molina often tells Martinez: trust your stuff and follow me, one pitch at a time.
Martinez fired three four-seam fastballs and got Napoli to pop out. As he came off the field, his teammates high-fived him and Lilliquist wrapped him in a bear hug.
“This kid’s amazing,” Molina said.” He doesn’t get scared.”
Afterward, Martinez wore a dark suit, a bright turquoise shirt, a bow tie, earrings in both ears, thick-rim glasses and a big smile as he did interviews in Spanish. Jason Motte, the injured closer, said he admired how Martinez went about his business, keeping mostly to himself. He was young and confident, but not cocky.
Maybe he was not so much Little Pedro after all.