Zimmer combative, apologetic

NEW YORK -- Six years after their famous brawl in the 2003 playoffs, Pedro Martinez and Don Zimmer still differ on what exactly happened.

When a separate altercation broke out on the field at Fenway Park, Zimmer, then a 72-year-old Yankees bench coach, charged at then-Red Sox ace Martinez, who grabbed Zimmer by the head and tossed him to the ground.

The Yankees were annoyed that Martinez hit Karim Garcia with a pitch earlier in the game, but Martinez said his ailing shoulder was giving him trouble.

"It was an ugly scene," Martinez said Wednesday during a pregame World Series news conference, adding this was probably the first time he was discussing it publicly. "Zim charged me and I think he's going to say something, but his reaction was totally the opposite, [he] was trying to punch my mouth and told me a couple of bad words about my mom. I just had to react and defend myself.

"It was something that we have to let go kind of, and forget about it, because it was a disgrace for baseball," he added. "Even though it wasn't my fault, I was involved in it, and it's one of the moments that I don't like to see. I don't like to see it because I'm not a violent man."

Zimmer, now a senior adviser with the Tampa Bay Rays, disputes Martinez's version of the incident, saying he was trying to take Martinez down, aiming his head at Martinez's chest but Martinez took hold of his neck.

"Pedro is full of crap," Zimmer told the St. Petersburg Times. "It's what, six years later? If Pedro wants to be a big man, I don't care what he says."

Zimmer, however, was more forgiving in an interview with the New York Daily News.

"I told the whole world I was wrong and that I was embarrassed by what I'd done and I apologized for it," Zimmer told the Daily News. "I was definitely wrong and Pedro didn't do nothing. I told the whole world that, even though the Yankees didn't want me to hold a press conference because they were afraid I might say something to stir things up more."

When he saw Zimmer on the ground, Martinez said he thought about his father, who died last year.

"I respect elders; I don't condone anything like that," Martinez said. "But I've got no choice. I've got no choice but to just respond and get away."

From that point on, Martinez didn't appreciate the way New York tabloids portrayed him as a villain or monster every time he returned to Yankee Stadium with the Red Sox.

"You guys have used me and abused me," he said. "I remember quotes in the paper, 'Here comes the man that New York loves to hate.' Man? None of you have probably ever eaten steak with me or rice and beans with me to understand what the man is about. You might say the player, the competitor, but the man? You guys have abused my name. You guys have said so many things, have written so many things.

"There was one time I remember when I was a free agent, there was talk that I might meet with [George] Steinbrenner. One of your colleagues had me in the papers with horns and a tail, red horns and a tail. That's a sign of the devil. I'm a Christian man. I don't like those things. I take those things very serious. Those are the kind of things that the fans actually get used to seeing, and actually sometimes influence those people to believe that you are a bad person, that you are like an ogre."

One of baseball's most colorful characters, Martinez is set to pitch for the Philadelphia Phillies against A.J. Burnett and the Yankees in Game 2 of the World Series on Thursday night.

Back in the Big Apple, where he was first a Red Sox villain and then an ace for the Mets, a reflective Martinez threw all of his pitches during an anything-but-ordinary news conference before Game 1.

"I don't know if you realize this, but because of you guys in some ways, I might be at times the most influential player that ever stepped in Yankee Stadium. I can honestly say that," Martinez said. "I have all the respect in the world for the way they enjoy being fans. Sometimes they might be giving you the middle finger, just like they will be cursing you and telling you what color underwear you're wearing. All those things you can hear when you're a fan. But at the end of the day, they're just great fans that want to see the team win. I don't have any problem with that."

Martinez spent four injury-plagued seasons with the Mets from 2005 to 2008. Signed by the Phillies in mid-July after sitting out the first half of the season, he lacks the overpowering fastball he used to have. But he still knows how to win.

Martinez threw two-hit ball for seven shutout innings in Game 2 of the National League Championship Series at Dodger Stadium.

"As you know, I'm older and wiser. I believe my experience played a big role in that," Martinez said.

Thursday will be his second World Series start -- he pitched seven scoreless innings of three-hit ball for the Red Sox against St. Louis in 2004.

It will be the first World Series outing for the hard-throwing Burnett, who did not receive a decision in three AL playoff starts this year.

"I'm excited," he said. "I'm going to prepare, yeah, maybe, as another game, but deep down I know what it's about. I know how real it is, and I don't want to change it."

Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.