Tuesday, March 16, 2004

Power to Push

Pedro is telling the world that his arm is back. He’s fully recuperated, an extra 10 pounds of muscle feels comfortable, and he’s ready to throw 98 again. Great. Fantastic. Oh – and as soon as a radar gun shows any actual evidence of this, the Ninth would love an email. Or a call (nothing after 9, Mom gets upset). Because honestly, I’m dubious. It’s not that Pedro is lying, but we’ve heard this all before. He’s felt surprisingly good every spring -- and what has that gotten us? A very good but not great starter. I’ll take it, but I won’t throw a party. And what exactly is he recuperating from anyway? Not the pulled muscle from last May. So -- are we talking about the shoulder injury that was two full years ago? We couldn’t possibly still be talking about… oh wait, we are, aren’t we? Oy. Having seen Pedro’s second start yesterday, he looked an awful lot like a guy rounding into shape to be the same pitcher he was last year. The accuracy wasn’t there, but Martinez threw mostly in the high 80’s with good off speed stuff. The curves and changes should be just fine when the time comes, but the heat looked like the same old dog. Not much energy, too little zip. It’s good enough, and I’ll take Pedro over almost any pitcher in the game, but there was a time without the almost. And in that time, he threw 98. The Ninth believes he could again, but he probably won’t. Until Pedro pitches without restraint or reluctance on a consistent basis, there is no reason to believe that the ghost of injury past is gone. No matter how good he says the shoulder feels, if we don’t see him trust it, how can we?

Curt Schilling on the other hand, watch out. In his last televised start he had control, velocity, touch, and plenty of aggression. And he’s just getting started. Seeing Schilling and Pedro back to back made something. These two great pitchers, on the same team, in the same place – are really quite different. And I’m not talking about stuff. The best I can put it is this: Pedro pitches like he knows he’s great and everyone agrees; Schilling throws like he still needs to be convinced. Explanation: With Pedro, you get the feeling that he’s essentially content with his performance. He still wants to dominate, but overall, he’s happy with where he’s gotten. And truly, Martinez has risen to the top of his profession and pitched two of the greatest seasons in the history of the sport, so why shouldn’t attention be paid? Dominance of his ’99 and ‘00 caliber won’t be seen again for a long time, why complain about pitch counts and late arrivals? Is there something Pedro hasn’t done that we can ask for? If he needs to ease off the fastball a little bit in non-critical situations, we really shouldn’t critique. But here’s the thing: if Pedro pitched three more seasons of very good, All-Star ball, but never returned to those glory days, would he really mind? If he had to retire early for injury, and never made it back to the apex, would he have any regrets? We know he’d miss the game - but would it eat at his soul? That’s what I want to know – and if I had to guess, I’d say no. For those two years, Pedro knew what could’ve been…because it was. He was the best. He did everything he possibly could as a player, ruled over his time like arguably no one has before. So when it comes down to it, what is there for Pedro to regret? And that’s the essential “problem”: he has nothing to push for. Why force a tender shoulder into the 100th percentile when it’s been there already? 99th is just fine for now. Pedro won’t be crying in has hammock or staring at his glove. He knows that already. He’s done the things. He has, amazingly, the ability at 32 years of age to be able say, for his life: Mission Accomplished. Strange thing. But not Curt. How do you think he’d do with a career ending injury (God forbid) tomorrow afternoon? Think he could drop into a recliner, prop up his pups for a nice rest and whisper “ah well, it was a good run”? No way. Not in a century. Schill’s got a ring, he’s shared an award, but he’s never been the best. And he knows he can be. He looks at his career and sees a few lousy years and a bit of wasted effort. He sees a man who learned how to be great a little too late and doesn’t have time to spare. He needs these next three seasons in Boston to make his career complete. Curt needs not only to stay good, but to get better, and he needs his teammates to do it with him. He needs a run with the Red Sox that’ll make him feel complete. Something that will let him know he did the most he could with what God gave him. And you see it every time he throws a ball. No mph’s are coming off to guard his arm. Not now. Not when he has a chance to go from very good to great. Curt welcomes Pedro’s presence because he knows it will propel him further. Help him to get to where his pride needs to go. What’s Pedro reaction? “I don’t need to be pushed.”

Is this statistics? No. Is this objective, without-argument, hard-and-true analysis? Not at all. These questions are a matter of feeling, of instinct. There’s nothing wrong with Pedro’s place, and who’s to say what’s going on in Schilling head. When you hear him talk though, you feel like he believes there’s more to be done. The best is ahead. At the end of the day, the career Pedro has already had will put him in the Hall and make his memory last, but Schilling has more to do. And it may be that that causes one player to surge and another to recede. Or maybe Martinez’s competitive fire trumps the power of the pain of regret. Who knows? But for now, when I watch Pedro, I see a man that says look what I’ve done, Schilling says look what I will do.