With the heated American League Championship Series between the New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox behind us, it’s time to reflect on the one play that received the most slow-motion replays, in-depth analysis and multi-angle shots so far this post-season. And this one has nothing to do with Aaron Boone’s dramatic eleventh-inning home run that ensured the Curse of the Bambino will stay intact for at least one more year. Instead, it’s based on the bout between Red Sox ace Pedro Martinez and Don Zimmer, the Yankee’s 72-year-old bench coach.
The New York press tried to demonize Martinez. The Post called him Pedro "The Punk" and published a full-page Wanted poster, the first such notice since one for terrorist mastermind Osama bin Laden in Sept. 2001. Most Yankee fans followed suit when they condemned Martinez for what they thought was intentionally and dangerously throwing a pitch at Karim Garcia, who was barely grazed on the back.
These accusations are from the same folks who backed Roger Clemens after he nailed Mets superstar catcher Mike Piazza in the head during interleague play in 2000 and viciously followed it up by throwing a broken bat in Piazza’s direction during the World Series. It’s absurdly hypocritical to say that hurling a bat isn’t intentional, but scold an opposing pitcher for hardly making contact with a batter. Clemens’ defense at the time: he thought it was the ball. Of course! A pitcher who at that point was a 17-year veteran with five Cy Young Awards under his belt, yet couldn’t tell the difference between a bat and a ball?
Let’s also consider the reasons each pitcher would have had for hitting the batter. Piazza, the Met’s best offensive player and a serious MVP candidate in 2000, flaunts a .533 lifetime average in 15 at-bats against Clemens, including four home runs and 10 RBI. That’s pretty compelling evidence that a frustrated Clemens would intentionally hit him.
Karim Garcia, who is by no means the best player on the Yankees, has a .230 average (without any extra-base hits or RBI) in 13 career at-bats against Martinez. Even if Pedro was determined to hit a batter, why would he waste his time on Garcia, especially since it loaded the bases in a meaningful playoff game?
Martinez is also under fire for throwing Zimmer to the ground in Game 3. But after repeated TV replays, it was obvious that Zimmer went around the main pile of players to seek out Martinez, who was innocently standing near the Red Sox dugout. Yankee fans have said that Martinez should have sidestepped Zimmer. Please.
In the heat of the moment, with a ready-to-fight man coming at you, it’s amazing that Pedro kept enough composure to just harmlessly send him onto the grass. Like many other journalists have said, some players would have knocked out Zimmer with one swift punch before realizing what was happening.
Zimmer obviously should have been more mature than he was. That’s why he issued a sincere apology to both franchises the next day.
In the end, this was another case of New Yorkers getting carried away. Martinez responded the way most of us would if we had to make a split-second decision with someone imminently running up to attack us. With the modern hotheads on the diamond, it’s more appropriate to praise Pedro for how he handled the situation. I don’t know many other people who would have done as well as he did.