Ho-hum, just another mid-September Thursday talking baseball with two of the greatest pitchers of their generation.
It started in a production meeting, continued on a Facebook Live session about pitching grips, carried into a chat with a journalist, then finally hit national TV, and it was clear that this stuff never gets old for John Smoltz and Pedro Martinez, Hall of Fame classmates in 2015 and proud baseball nerds.
“Baseball runs in my veins,” Martinez said while sitting next to Smoltz in an office at MLB Network headquarters. “It’s like my daily bread. We’re talking baseball. That’s what we do.”
The bonus is doing so with a baseball peer.
“It’s a great sensation to have someone who really feels like you do, understands where you come from and actually lived it, just like you,” Martinez said. “It’s sensational to know you have someone who can relate to you in every aspect.”
Although they both are part of MLBN’s stable of analysts, Smoltz and Martinez do not always work together, as they did on Thursday’s “MLB Tonight.”
Martinez has a job as a special assistant in the Red Sox’s front office. Smoltz is the analyst in Fox’s No. 1 game booth. But at MLB Network, they are in their element — and aware they are speaking not only to fans.
“The beauty of this place is we don’t really do it for the players, but the players watch,” Smoltz said.
One challenge, Smoltz said, is that in the time since he and Martinez last played in 2009, the approach to pitching has changed, including the use of ever more relievers after ever-shorter stints by starters.
Speaking of which, let’s get to Yankees Topic Number One: Assuming the Yankees do not win the American League East title but do secure a wild-card berth, whom should Joe Girardi start in that one-and-done game?
Most teams go with their best pitcher, but Smoltz believes the Yankees should save ace Luis Severino for a potential Division Series.
“I like to think outside the box,” he said. “But I also realize that we’re governed and judged by our results, so if you do something outside the box, you’re going to get crushed.”
Smoltz said that given the Yankees’ bullpen depth in a game in which the starters figure not to make it to the late innings regardless, why not pitch that game by committee and have Severino available for two games of a best-of-five series?
After all, the idea is to win the World Series, not one game — especially for the Yankees.
“If you gave me the reins and I knew I had a good chance of being fired [as a manager] because I made this decision or I had a better chance of advancing to the World Series, I would choose the latter,” Smoltz said.
“I know people might think I landed on the moon, but I’m just saying if you want to win 12 games, if you want your best chance to win the World Series, I think you have to line yourself with the best.”
Your thoughts, Pedro?
“I have to agree with him,” Martinez said. “But the Yankees have the luxury of probably the deepest bullpen in all of baseball and the most experienced out of all of them in baseball. So they have a luxury that not every other team has. I think teams that are desperate to win one game and see how long they can last, it’s totally different.”
Smoltz, 50, and Martinez, 45, both were engaging interview subjects as players and figured to make good analysts. But Martinez, who joined MLB Network in 2015, has been a revelation.
“We know he’s an all-time great, but that doesn’t mean his head has to be working the way it does,” MLBN host Brian Kenny said. “You could quickly see he breaks things down in life as he does in baseball, and he’s constantly analyzing and thinking . . . You can see with him there is a genius at work there.”
Producer Chris Roenbeck said Martinez has amazed the staff in meeting with observations, such as equating where a hitter waggles his bat awaiting a pitch to where he likes a pitch to hit.
Just having Smoltz and Martinez in the studio, coordinating producer Marc Weiner said, frequently closes the deal when the network is trying to land a postgame interview, with many Latin-American players in particular having grown up idolizing Martinez and eager to speak to him.
On to Yankees Topic Number Two: Is the Yankees-Red Sox rivalry finally back after a lull?
“This has a chance, with the young superstars they have that could potentially be there 10 years,” Smoltz said. “That really will spruce this thing up, because it has been dull [recently] . . . That’s what makes a rivalry incredible, that you know the players on both teams.”
Said Martinez, “I love to see them now, because the display of young players they have are very similar. The only thing that’s different between the players on the Red Sox and Yankees is the height . . . They match up really, really well.”
Much of the height to which Martinez referred can by found on 6-7 Aaron Judge.
How would the two former pitching stars have approached the big guy? Smoltz would have aimed low and outside. Martinez . . . not so much.
“In a critical situation and I need to do it, I would do it, without a doubt, I would pitch him up and in,” he said. “With me, he would have a consistent pitch around him because that was my weapon — pitching inside.
“I could command the inner part of the plate and he’s not comfortable that way, so I most certainly would do it.”