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Pedro Martinez isn't the Mets' ace, anymore. That title, for the foreseeable future, belongs to Johan Santana, although an old friend is making waves across town.

But he can pitch like it tonight.

Pedro was really only the Mets' ace for that woefully underrated 2005 season, where he wowed stat folks (a ridiculous .949 WHIP) and goofy old traditionalists (4 complete games) in the way only he could. By 2006, his hip was cranky, and then his shoulder exploded - and we grew to love an aceless club.

2007 was lost, for the most part, and 2008 has been Pedro's worst showing to date, with really very few mitigating factors. He's not striking anyone out, he's walking well more than usual, giving up more hits, and more home runs than ever before.

Really, the only thing that could make us have any faith in Pedro is that he's been throwing hard - harder than last year, certainly, and harder than much of his brief 2006 work.
And, well, that he's Pedro. Armed with freakishly long fingers, and at various times a (now deceased) pint-sized Dominican horror film actor, at left, a Jheri-curl, and roosters to cockfight with Juan Marichal - he has managed to be perhaps the most dominant pitcher in the history of baseball, leading everyone in ERA+ (a park-adjusted, league-adjusted figure).

Now, tonight, he takes the hill for the Mets in what, regrettably, is a very serious game. We don't like playing serious games this early in the season, but when a team has been as disappointing as this club has, sometimes it's necessary.

Pedro has a checkered past in these matches: one might remember his six no-hit relief innings to clinch the 1999 ALDS, or perhaps his start in early April 2005, with the Mets 0-5 and facing John Smoltz in Atlanta: 9 innings, 2 hits, 1 run, 9 strikeouts.

But an anti-Pedro pundit might offer his eighth-inning meltdown against the Yankees in Game 7 of the 2003 ALCS - although it's primarily blamed on Grady Little, Pedro gave back a three-run lead with a chance to clinch a World Series spot for the Sox.

And hell, Pedro is now physically nowhere near the pitcher he was in any of those games. His stuff has changed, too: more cutters, more sliders, fewer curveballs. And Pedro's cutter has recently appeared to be a special variety: the meatball cutter.

But then again, he's Pedro. He still has the ability to power this team, due to his still quite good repertoire, and his fearlessness on the mound. Tonight will be his first test - as this game is far more important than a rainy affair against the Cardinals. The Cardinals don't matter. They won't be an obstacle to the Mets' postseason chances (though given their 2006 comeback and Joel Pineiro's 2007 stunner, maybe I'll eat my words), while the Phillies, moreso than any other club, ought to be.

Tonight, Pedro, slayer of demons, faces Adam Eaton, slayer of Mets. Eaton is 5-0 career against the Mets, with an ERA against them a run and a half below his career average.

The Mets won with Eaton on the hill in April, in a twelve-inning affair, but lost to him a few weeks later (despite his poor performance: 4 runs in 5 innings).

It may appear to be just another early-July game against the Phillies, one that the Mets can lose and still split the series, but we all know it's far more pivotal than that. The Mets, with a win, can push themselves over .500. And, sure, momentum might be overrated, but who wouldn't want to be winners of three straight with the Rockies and Giants coming to town before the break? Those teams are a combined thirty games under .500.

So here's to Pedro being Pedro. We all know what he can do - now it's time to see it.


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