Well, at least now we know.
John Maine, your time is now. You're only stepping in for one of the most-dominant pitchers of his era, the man whose arrival was a Piazzaesque sign that the Mets mattered again, one of the figures so vital to his sport that you say his first name and everybody knows who you mean. So no pressure or anything.
Our commentors have supplied the stats: We were 11-12 in Pedro starts this year, as an electric April gave way to a frustrating May and then a mostly doleful rest of the season. Yes, Pedro pitched his guts out in May with nary a W to show for it, but the mere fact that you have to dig deep into the stats to defend him tells the story — as many predicted, this was the year that the body (helped along by the floors of the Marlins' vile, OSHA-violation-encrusted, Soilmaster-infested stadium) thoroughly betrayed the artist that is Pedro J. Martinez, creating a deficit that even his legendary brains, grit and guile couldn't make up.
Summing up Pedro through cold empty stats has always been a fool's errand — if there's ever been a pitcher whose intangibles and unquantifiables must be spoken of, it's him. Which is one of the reasons this isn't another invitation to cannonball into the East River. Lead the Mets? He already has. We'll never know how many tete-a-tetes on the dugout bench helped the rest of the staff, or how many clubhouse or team-bus antics helped the young players realize they belonged. Here's devoutly hoping he'll drag his protective boot to Shea next week and then to St. Louis or Los Angeles or San Diego or Houston and then (we even more devoutly hope) to destinations unknown, so that wise counsel can be given or a joke cracked when it really matters to some member of the 2006 postseason squad. 26th man, sixth starter, second pitching coach — as long as I see him there, I'll feel better about things. He taught a lot of his current teammates the things they needed to learn to come this far. Those lessons won't evaporate along with his roster spot.
And, honestly, it's a relief to have a little clarity. There's no arguing with a torn tendon. Anything less definitive, and Pedro would have tried — which is in no way a knock on him, but a tribute to his lionhearted self. He would have tried, and it wouldn't have worked — that did-it-with-mirrors ride to the rescue in Cleveland was seven years and a lot of miles ago. I think we all sensed last night that he had no magic left in the 2006 hat, even if we were reluctant to admit it. I'm not sure Pedro would have admitted it — you don't climb to the pinnacle of sports from where Pedro started without superhuman confidence in your own abilities, without a certainty that you're invulnerable. Unfortunately, there's no off switch — the ineffable, enviable mix of belief and defiance is what makes an athlete the first to believe, but it's the same thing that makes him or her the last to know.
And that would have left Willie and Omar and the Jacket with a terrible dilemma, one that would have had us fretting and fighting and moaning: Should Pedro start Game 4? Pitch in relief? It's a later round, can he give it a go? Now, it's academic. The MRI has spoken, the verdict is in, and it's time to get on with it.
Oh yes, the game: It was like a documentary about a World War I battle, wasn't it? Grim and sloppy and endless, with the sole levity provided by the loopy announcers and David Wright's hasty retreat (with a mouthed “Wow!”) as Country Joe West instructed Brian McCann to take his opinions about the strike zone to the shower.
Anyway, we won. We even hit a little. It doesn't feel like the relief we'd hoped for, not with this news to absorb, but perhaps when we get to Washington we'll win a couple more and hit a bunch more, and remember that, hey, we really are going to the postseason. Now, please tell me we're going there with Pedro, that he'll brandish his toy bat and flash his elfin grin and whisper a word or two. I wish we could have more from him than that. We all do. But if we can bring his intangibles and unquantifiables, let's remember they're Hall of Fameworthy too.
(By the way, did anybody else hide behind the couch when El Duque reached for that ball with his bare hand? Between that, Pedro and Reyes's kamikaze slide I felt vaguely like throwing up all night.)
(Oh yeah — if you want a Faith and Fear shirt, holler.)