BOSTON (CBS) — It’s time to hit the “Full Disclosure Button” and come right out and say it: I love Pedro Martinez.
I know, I know, as a very serious, important writer, one is not supposed to admit to having strong feelings either way on the weighty sports issues in the world. That’s especially true in baseball, where writers are supposed to take themselves more seriously than the President of the United States.
But really, if you don’t love Pedro Martinez, something’s wrong with you.
Pedro Jaime Martinez went to the Red Sox in November 1997 and saved baseball in Boston. Oh sure, baseball would have continued to exist had the skinny 26-year-old not gone to the Red Sox via trade, but Pedro breathed a new life into the city and its fans, making every fifth game must-see TV and helping to bring back the passion that had gone missing during a seven-year stretch of .500 baseball that saw the Red Sox win exactly zero playoff games.
He was dominant. He had flair. He was fearless.
He was also a goofball.
Yes, Pedro Martinez was simply the best, and as he takes his rightful place in the Red Sox Hall of Fame, it stirs many memories of his brilliance on the mound. I’ll admit to having special places in my nostalgic heart for Roger Clemens and Nomar Garciaparra, two former Sox who were also inducted to the team hall of fame, but really, there’s no player quite like Pedro. We’ll never see another one like him.
Fortunately, we’ll always have highlights, so let’s relive some of his greatest moments.
Pedro’s first start in a Red Sox uniform took place 3,100 miles west of Fenway Park, on a 56-degree day in Oakland. It was a sign of things to come, as Martinez struck out 11 batters while allowing no runs over seven innings. It was the first of eight double-digit strikeouts from Martinez that season, a sight that would become familiar in the coming years. In 1999, he threw 19 double-digit strikeout games, and in 2000 he threw another 15 of them. Nine of his 18 starts in 2001 were double-digit K affairs, and though he threw just nine double-digit strikeout games in 2002, he led the league with 239 punchouts.
OK, this wasn’t during his Red Sox career, but it’s a good indicator of the fire that burned within Pedro and went with him to Boston. And look! He even endeared himself to future teammate Curt Schilling. Great video.
How many future Hall of Famers wore Star Wars masks in the dugout? I haven’t done much research, but I feel as though the answer is just one.
The same can be said for future Hall of Famers who have submitted themselves to this:
1999 All-Star Game — Beating The Best
With the 1999 All-Star Game at Fenway Park for the first time since 1961, Pedro got the start. At that point in the season, Pedro was 15-3 (15-3!) with a 2.10 ERA and 184 strikeouts in 132.2 innings. He was excellent that year, but he was at his absolute best for the All-Star Game.
Barry Larkin, nice eight-pitch battle, but you’re going down swinging. Larry Walker, looking. Sammy Sosa, swinging, see ya. Mark McGwire, four pitches, swinging, peace. Mitch Williams, you can reach on a Jose Offerman error (classic Offerman!), but you know that Jeff Bagwell is just going to go down swinging.
The only sour note from this night was that Ivan Rodriguez gunned down Williams, who was attempting to steal second when Bagwell struck out, thereby robbing all of us from seeing Mike Piazza helplessly strike out against Pedro.
Mind you, this was in the thick of the steroid era, and it was against two of the most prolific ‘roids guys of all time in McGwire and Sosa (allegedly!). Yet they were no match for Pedro’s 97 mph heater and devastating changeup.
‘The Perfect Game That Never Was’ In Tampa
This may perhaps be the most “Pedro” game of all time. He started it off by plunking Gerald Williams in the wrist with a 94 mph fastball. He then stood his ground as Williams charged him.
Unshaken from the fisticuffs, Pedro settled down to retire the rest of the side in order, the last two via strikeout. He then retired the side in order in the second inning. And then the third. And then the fourth, fifth, sixth, seventh and eight. If it hadn’t been for hitting Williams, Pedro would have had a perfect game going in the ninth. Even still, he had a no-hitter going when, inexplicably, his neck chain broke. Pedro’s next pitch was lined into center field by John Flaherty for a base hit.
Some pitchers would be devastated after getting so close to a no-no but then losing it. Yet after the 13-strikeout one-hitter, Pedro was hardly upset.
“I don’t really care. I’ve achieved enough,” he said that night. “”A no-hitter is not what’s going to dictate what kind of pitcher I am. I think my career is more interesting than one game.”
Scanning this list, which is full of some great pitchers but many nobodies, Pedro couldn’t look any more right.
With the Sox in a must-win Game 5 in the 1999 ALDS, the team got absolutely nothing out of starter Bret Saberhagen, who was rocked for five runs in his one inning of work. The Red Sox rallied to take a 7-5 lead in the top of the third, but Derek Lowe stunk up the joint in the bottom of the inning, giving up the lead and allowing three runs in his two innings on the mound.
Tied at 8-8 through three and a half innings, the Sox needed a savior, so in came Pedro, who was only supposed to pitch maybe a couple of innings because he was dealing with a back injury. Well, he pitched a little longer than that, finishing the game and allowing zero hits in his six innings on the mound.
The entire game is on YouTube. Go ahead and watch that. For now, check out Pedro’s celebratory beverage shower after earning the win:
Pedro vs. Roger, ALCS
The 1999 ALCS was not a banner moment in Red Sox history, as the Yankees dispatched their rivals in just five games. However, Red Sox fans did have one chance to feel happy during that series, and it came from Pedro’s performance in Game 3 against Roger Clemens.
The former Sox ace was touched for five runs in two innings, serving up a two-run homer to John Valentin.
Martinez, still fighting the back injury, struck out 12 Yankees over seven shutout innings. The Sox won 13-1, briefly giving Boston some hope, all thanks to Pedro.
(I’m sure a lot of people would expect the Pedro Martinez/Don Zimmer showdown to make this list, but I don’t know. Zim was a good man, and Pedro didn’t set out that day to get into a fight with an old man. It was unforgettable, and the drama was great, but I wouldn’t put that moment as a great for a pitcher as talented as Pedro.)
Speaking of great performances against the Yankees …
A Bronx Cheer For 17 K’s
It’s not often that a Red Sox player receives a genuine cheer from a Yankee Stadium crowd in the Bronx, but on Sept. 10, 1999, Pedro was just that good.
Martinez struck out 17 Yankees, allowing just one hit — a solo homer by Chili Davis. It just didn’t get any better than this performance.
(He started this one off by hitting the leadoff man, too!)
The performance inspired this great lede from Buster Olney for The New York Times:
“Hitters gossip on the Yankees’ bench during games, sharing information about the opposing pitcher’s flaws. But there was no free-flowing exchange of thought last night, no tips, no insight. They said nothing in the dugout because there was nothing to say. Boston’s Pedro Martinez humbled the Yankees in their home park in a manner never seen before.”
Nine Pitches, Nine Strikes, Three Outs
You literally cannot do better than that.
Signing His Autograph The Way He Wants
In 2002, Pedro Martinez was robbed of the Cy Young Award … or at least he felt that way.
Barry Zito went 23-5 with a 2.75 ERA, 1.134 WHIP and 182 strikeouts in 229.1 IP.
Martinez went 20-4 with a 2.26 ERA, 0.923 WHIP and 239 strikeouts in 199.1 IP.
The award went to Zito, which shouldn’t have been a huge blow to Pedro, who had already won the award three times. But it clearly did, and I’ll never forget the way Pedro signed an autograph for my younger brother the following year: “Pedro Martinez, Cy ’97, ’99, ’00, ’02.”
Dealing With Curses
The Yankees, famously Pedro’s “Daddy” throughout his career, became a sore subject for the pitcher after a while, and in May 2001, he finally lost his temper a bit when asked about the “Curse of the Bambino.”
“I’m starting to hate talking about the Yankees,” Pedro said. “The questions are so stupid. They’re wasting my time. It’s getting kind of old. … I don’t believe in damn curses. Wake up the damn Bambino, and have me face him. Maybe I’ll drill him in the ass.”
He may not have been able to drill Babe Ruth, but there was that time two years later when he came inside on Derek Jeter and Alfonso Soriano and ended up sending both of them to the hospital after hitting them with fastballs. (Don’t worry, they were both fine.) It let those two hitters know that can’t hang over the plate, and it was the beginning of the era which saw the Red Sox finally able to conquer the Yankees.
Game 3, 2004 World Series
All of those other moments are great, sure. They are what make a Hall of Fame career unforgettable. At the same time, Pedro came to Boston to do more than just put up stats and injure leadoff mean; he came to win a World Series.
And on Oct. 26, 2004, he did his part to help deliver the first championship since 1918. Pedro, his long, curly hair uncontrollably flowing out from his cap, took the mound in St. Louis with the chance to give the Sox a commanding 3-0 lead in the World Series. He did just that. No longer the owner of a high-90s fastball, Martinez brilliantly pitched seven shutout innings while striking out six and allowing just three hits.
When he walked off the mound, he pointed to the sky. Roughly 24 hours later, he’d have both arms raised, pointing at that same Midwest sky, this time as a World Series champion.
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