ST. LOUIS — Cardinals starter Carlos Martinez slowly walked to the mound Sunday night, crouched down, and with his right index finger, wrote the numbers 18 and 30, drawing circles around each one.
He stepped back, stared intently at his drawings, and gave a quiet prayer.
The numbers represented those of his former teammate, Oscar Tavares, who was killed in October, 2014, in a car accident with his girlfriend, and former countryman, Yordano Ventura, who was killed last January in a one-car accident.
Martinez, 25, the youngest Cardinals pitcher to make an opening-day start in 28 years, took a deep breath, stepped back on the mound, and pitched perhaps the most emotional game of his young career.
Martinez absolutely dazzled the World Series champions Chicago Cubs, leading the Cardinals to a 4-3 victory in front of a frenzied sellout crowd of 47,566 at Busch Stadium.
"For me it was an honor, and a lot of emotion going through me," Martinez said through the Cardinals’ interpreter. "It was an honor to be like a brother to both of them. And for me, every time I step on the mound, I will dedicate every single game to them.
"They taught me how to live my life to its fullest when they were alive, and obviously the passing away of them helps me live my life to its fullest."
It’s a tribute, Martinez vows, that he will do every game the rest of his career.
The way he overpowered the Cubs this night, mixing in a 100-mph fastball, devastating 86-mph changeup, and nasty slider, he could be honoring them right up to the time he accepts a Cy Young award.
Martinez, who already has established himself as one of the finest young pitchers in the game, looks as if he’s vaulted his game to the next level.
He won all three of his spring training starts with a 1.38 ERA. He yielded a 1.13 ERA in the World Baseball Classic for the Dominican Republic. And, oh, now this baby on Opening Day.
Martinez was nothing short of sensational, striking out 10 batters in 7 1/3 scoreless innings without walking a soul, and permitting only two runners to reach second base.
You want domination?
He was only the fourth pitcher since 1913 to pitch at least seven shutout innings, while striking out at least 10 without issuing a walk, according to baseball-reference. He joined Bob Gibson in 1967, Chris Short in 1968 and Jered Weaver in 2012.
Why, his 10 strikeouts were the most by a Cardinals’ opening-day pitcher since Gibson in 1975.
Yes, the man was that good.
"It was an opportunity to show St. Louis and the Cardinals that I am the man for the job," Martinez said, "and obviously showcase the talent to the world."
No offense, but the Cubs wouldn’t mind if they never saw him again.
There’s nothing like facing a young ace in the division that could haunt them for the next 10 years. He not only has the talent to beat the Cubs, but, oh, he’s got the confidence, too.
"I think we closed the gap," Martinez said, "and I think we’re better. I know they’re a good team. They just won a World Series. But the past is the past.
"I think we can be just as good, if not better."