The celebrity endorsements pour in for Montreal Expos
righthander Pedro Martinez. San Diego Padres hit master Tony
Gywnn says Martinez has "the Cy Young kit." St. Louis Cardinals
slugger Mark McGwire calls Martinez's stuff the best he has ever
faced. Philadelphia Phillies manager Terry Francona notes that
his players weren't sprinting to check the lineup card before
his team faced Martinez last Thursday. But the most notable
endorsement comes from Atlanta Braves pitching coach Leo
Mazzone, who says that if he could set loyalty aside, he'd pick
Martinez as the 1997 National League Cy Young Award winner.
Mazzone, whose pitchers have made the award their personal
property in the 1990s, has become an authority on the Cy Young
(Tom Glavine won it in '91; Greg Maddux won it the next four
years, including from '93 through '95 with the Braves; and John
Smoltz earned it last year). This season two Atlanta starters,
Maddux (18-4, 2.31 ERA at week's end) and Denny Neagle (20-3,
2.62), are prime candidates for the National League honor along
with Martinez, the Houston Astros' Darryl Kile (17-6, 2.42) and
the San Francisco Giants' Shawn Estes (18-4, 3.07). In the
American League the Toronto Blue Jays' Roger Clemens, who was
21-5 with a 1.85 ERA, looks like the sure winner, but the
26-year-old Martinez is the thinking man's choice in the
If Martinez, who was 16-7 with a 1.78 ERA, can get to 20
wins--he has four or five starts remaining--he should be a lock.
But even if Martinez reaches 19, or perhaps even 18, his other
drop-dead statistics would make him a worthy winner: Through
Sunday he led the majors in ERA and complete games (12), ranked
second in strikeouts with 266 in 212 1/3 innings, was tied for
second with four shutouts, had pitched through seven innings in
22 of his 27 starts and had yielded the lowest opponents'
batting average, .173. His ERA was 0.53 better than Maddux's and
almost a run better than Neagle's. Martinez had twice the number
of complete games and 82 more strikeouts than Kile had. But
Martinez's most glorious statistic was an ERA that was 2.43
better than the league average, putting him on pace to have the
fourth widest differential in history.
Aside from his victory total, the best argument against
Martinez's winning the Cy Young is that he has pitched in a
vacuum--in this case, Montreal, a nonfactor in the standings for
more than a month. The other candidates are pitching in the heat
of pennant races.
"Pedro has more command of Pedro this year," Expos manager
Felipe Alou says. "When things go wrong now, he doesn't look up
at the roof for answers. He's got the answers in Pedro--in his
arm, in his legs, in his head, in his experience."
Late last season Montreal first base coach Luis Pujols told
Martinez that he was his own worst enemy. The pitcher took the
message to heart and decided to keep a lid on his simmering
emotions. "I was always angry at myself," he says. "I was trying
to blow fastballs by everybody. Be a power guy. I'd miss on the
inside part of the plate, hit people, get warned [by umpires],
get mad. It had to stop."
This season he gained better control of his heater, which he
throws in the mid-90s, and that made his changeup more effective
until a sprained ligament in his right thumb started bothering
him in early August, making both pitches less effective. Last
week a Montreal hand specialist recommended that the thumb be
immobilized for six weeks, which would have ended the pitcher's
season. Martinez declined.
He pitches on in hope of becoming the first native of the
Dominican Republic to win the Cy Young, an honor that escaped
Juan Marichal--now that nation's minister of sports (page 8).
"If I win the award, I'll have Marichal take it back home,"
Martinez says. "It will be the greatest gift, not for me but for
my country." --M.F.
COLOR PHOTO: AL TIELEMANS Opponents have batted a major-league-low .173 against Martinez. [Pedro Martinez pitching]