The Rays wanted to win Thursday's game, wanted it _ with a chance to take three of four from the contending Red Sox _ perhaps as much as any this season. Manager Hal McRae wanted it enough that he was willing to use Saturday's scheduled starter, Travis Harper, in relief if necessary.
But there was one slight problem.
Pedro Martinez was on the mound for Boston.
Martinez showed the Rays and anyone else watching that reports of his demise are extremely premature, holding the Rays to two singles over eight innings in an easy 6-0 Boston victory.
"Vintage Pedro," McRae said.
Martinez's velocity is clearly down, with most of his fastballs registering in the 88-89 range rather than the mid to upper 90s. But he has been no less effective, running his record to 13-2 and lowering his ERA to 2.50.
"Knowing how good of a pitcher he is, his presence out there makes you feel a little bit intimidated," Rays rightfielder Ben Grieve said. "So he's tough no matter how hard he's throwing."
As dominant, and determined, as Martinez looked on a cool Thursday night before another sold-out Fenway Park crowd, the accomplishment for the Rays may have been that they got a hit.
Two, actually. Rookie Carl Crawford, admittedly star struck in his first at-bat against Martinez, singled to right with two outs in the third, and Randy Winn singled in the sixth.
Otherwise, the Rays couldn't do much. Martinez struck out 11, giving him 115 in 76 innings against Tampa Bay, and allowed four balls out of the infield, the singles and two lazy fly outs. Their only threat came in the third when they had men on second and third with two outs, but Martinez got a called third strike past Andy Sheets.
"I don't think he has the same arm strength, but tonight he just pitched," McRae said. "He was more of a finesse pitcher tonight rather than a power pitcher, but he got his strikeouts."
"It just goes to show you that velocity is probably the last part of the equation that makes a pitcher successful," Rays catcher John Flaherty said. "First is location, then movement, offspeed pitches and velocity is the last one."
Martinez used his fastball when he needed to but seemed to rely more on changeups (some as slow as 74 mph) and sliders.
"He wasn't throwing as hard as he normally does and he was relying on his other pitches more than normal," Grieve said. "And his other pitches are all pretty good pitches, so it seemed like he was doing it pretty easy tonight."
According to Martinez, the Rays made it look that way:
"They have a pretty young team that was swinging at a lot of pitches. I bounced (my changeup) a lot but they were so young and anxious to swing that they swung at some bad changeups."
Martinez seemed to be pitching with a purpose as the Sox were intent on stopping a two-game losing streak. And he also threw a purpose pitch, hitting Grieve to open the fifth in clear retaliation for Rays starter Luis De Los Santos throwing up and in to Brian Daubach the previous inning.
"As soon as (De Los Santos) threw up and in I was like, "Great, I'm the first batter,' " Grieve said.
Said Martinez: "I protect my players."
Aware of exchanges between the teams, including events July 18 at the Trop that could lead to a suspension for Rays closer Esteban Yan, the umpires immediately issued a warning. That was the extent of any such activity.
De Los Santos was truly excited about the opportunity to pitch against Martinez, one of his idols growing up in the Dominican Republic, figuring his wife, children and other relatives on the island would get a chance to see the game on television.
The 24-year-old rookie, making his second start, again had trouble keeping the ball down, allowing three home runs, but showed some improvement in working six innings. "The first game was bad," De Los Santos said. "Tonight was a little better."
The loss gave the Rays a 32-68 record through 100 games, same as last season. Those Rays, thanks to an infusion of young players, went 30-32 to finish at 62-100.
These Rays were just happy to win two of four games at Fenway.
"If we would have won one game that would have been plenty for us the way we've been playing," Grieve said.