06/04/08 3:50 AM ET
Bats help lift Pedro in return
Veteran's comeback punctuated by eight-run Mets inning
By Marty Noble / MLB.com
To Billy Wagner, the impact of the return of Pedro Martinez could be measure numerically -- the innings the bullpen wouldn't be asked to pitch. To Ramon Castro and his catching compatriot Brian Schneider, the benefit would come in the form of innings more easily caught and outs more easily achieved. To a defense that has had its moments -- good and bad -- the return of Martinez would lighten the load in a direct way -- fewer balls to handle, fewer pitches hit hard. And the onus on the offense would be diminished as well.
One man, one night, one game, one victory. And one row of dominoes the Mets dared to believe could stretch from here to October.
"And one happy team" was the rejoinder Ryan Church offered. "One man can mean a lot."
If it's the right man, and, for Tuesday night at least, the Mets were certain Martinez can provide that service.
He had returned after slightly more than two months of medical leave and, in six innings of effective but hardly remarkable execution, he demonstrated why clubs covet starting pitching and why baseball sages regularly suggest pitching is the primary difference maker in the game. As much as Martinez put down the Giants in a 9-6 victory, he also had picked up the Mets. It wasn't anything extraordinary he accomplished in his second start of a season one-third complete. Indeed, he provided more promise than production.
But promise is what the Mets need at this point just as much as they need a 12-victories-in-15-games surge.
"It's good to have him back," Johan Santana said. "It's a big plus. We need him."
That much was obvious even before Wagner put an end to the Giants' ninth-inning fantasies. Hugs, backslaps and attaboys awaited Martinez in the Mets dugout as he walked from the mound at AT&T Park after completing the sixth inning. His teammates embraced him and all his return suggested. In a game that hadn't been particularly well-pitched, well-played or well-attended, the Mets had gotten well because of him.
Even with all the runs produced in a game with an American League flavor to it, the offense was of secondary import. The score and opponent were essentially meaningless. Martinez pitched for the first time since the season's second game, April 1, and though he didn't overwhelm the Giants' weak batting order, he pitched effectively and a tad longer than anticipated and emerged in seemingly fine physical shape. He didn't feel his health had been put at risk by the sixth inning pitched. He could have ended his workday at five. But why?
The modest performance spoke for itself -- six innings (109 pitches), seven hits, three runs, three walks, three strikeouts. His final 11 batters produced five of the seven hits. But he pitched out of trouble in the fifth and sixth innings. He allowed two runs in the fifth after the first three batters reached base. The first two reached base in the sixth. But neither scored.
"He saved his best pitches for when they put runners on base," Castro said.
In that regard, Martinez was mid-season normal.
His stamina and velocity -- he was at or close to 90 miles per hour on most of his fastballs -- were good.
"He looked good. I don't think he looked bad at all," Giants shortstop Omar Vizquel said. "He was still throwing 90 miles an hour. I think at the beginning of the game he had a problem hitting his spots, but then he settled down a little and started pitching better."
The more uplifting development was this, in Martinez's words: "I came off the field in the same shape I went on." No trace of a problem, he said. The left hamstring that betrayed him before he reached the fifth inning in April behaved properly. It even allowed Martinez to make a trip around the bases. He scored one of the Mets' eight runs in the fifth inning and had two hits.
"Everything he did was pretty amazing," fellow starting pitcher Mike Pelfrey said. "But he might want to tone down that hitting stuff. He doesn't swing a bat for two months, comes back and get two hits. And everybody looks at me 'cause I don't have any."
Martinez reveled in his offensive contribution. What pitcher doesn't? But he knew his primary contributions were made in the bottoms of the first six innings.
"I know what's important," he said. "To come back and do it again and over and over. I want to do what I did tonight and be with the team. I'm thankful I'm back, and I'm hopeful to stay a little longer this time."
While Martinez was earning his first 2008 decision and the 210th victory of his career, his teammates were battering Barry Zito and winning for the sixth time in eight games. The Mets' most productive inning since July 2006 left Zito in position to lose for the ninth time this season. He has one victory. It also allowed them to withstand the three-run homer Travis Denker hit off Scott Schoeneweis in the ninth inning.
The Mets scored eight times in the fifth inning with Damion Easley providing the critical hit, a bases-loaded double with one out. It produced the final three runs of the inning. A run-scoring double by Carlos Beltran had given the Mets a 2-1 lead; Ryan Church then drove in a run with a sacrifice fly.
Martinez, who had two hits for the third time in his career, also drove in a run and scored once. Jose Reyes scored twice, but he was hitless in five at-bats, and his hitting streak ended at 18 games. Billy Wagner, who seemed to have a night free of pitching, was needed to achieve the last two outs. He earned his 12th save.
But this baseball evening was all about Martinez.
"That's the best I've seen him throw since I've been here," Wagner said.
And what made the result even more impressive was that plate umpire Mike DiMuro had a strike zone that roughly was the size of Castro's mitt. Sixty-three of the 109 pitches were strikes.
"He was just what the doctor ordered," Randolph said. "It's a good sign to a man of this caliber back in the mix."
Marty Noble is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.