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Sunday, August 2, 2015

Pedro Martinez: Celebrating His Legendary Stint with the Boston Red Sox

Last weekend, former right-handed pitcher Pedro Martinez (along with Randy Johnson, John Smoltz and Craig Biggio) was part of the National Baseball Hall of Fame’s most recent induction class. Although he pitched for five teams during his illustrious 18-year major league career, he is best known for the seven seasons he spent with the Boston Red Sox. During his stint in the Hub, he created many memories, which have already become part of team lore.

Pedro won 219 games with a 2.93 ERA during his career. However, his time in Boston was truly special, as he was a combined 117-37 with a 2.52 ERA, 1,683 strikeouts and 3 Cy Young Awards (another three top-three finishes). Not to be forgotten is the integral role he played on the 2004 team- his last season in a Red Sox uniform- when the team finally won a World Series after an 86-year drought.

As someone who watched nearly every one of Pedro’s Boston starts, either on television or in person, I can attest that whenever he took the mound it was an event; a spectacle. The very real possibility existed that something special might happen every single time he toed the rubber. There could be a shutout, a no-hitter, a preponderance of strikeouts. The buzz he generated was electric. Baseball fans of all backgrounds delighted in watching his exploits from the edge of their seats.

A wisp of an athlete, Martinez’s exploits were made all the more incredible because of their perceived improbability. Although small of stature, he possessed a fearsome mid-90s fastball, a curve and changeup that rank among the best of all time. He may have often been the smallest player on the field but because of his physical abilities, he seemed like a giant.

Fiercely proud of his Dominican heritage, he brought his culture with him when he came to Boston in a trade with the Montreal Expos prior to the 1998 season. Almost immediately, Dominican flags sprang up all over Fenway Park on days he started. In a city with a history of racial strife, this was no small feat. His mere presence changed the dynamic of crowds and how fans rooted for the team. The colorful fluttering flags, fans yelling themselves hoarse and gleefully hanging “K” signs in the outfield stands created a diverse and carnival-like atmosphere that has never been seen before or since.

Ability can get you only so far in baseball. For that reason, Martinez’s infectious fun-loving personality made him all the more entertaining to watch. From being cheerfully tied to a dugout post by teammates, to donning a Yoda mask while cheering between starts, number 45 made the game more fun for everyone around him.

There were many other highlights during Pedro’s Boston tenure, including:

The 1999 All Star Game, which was held in Boston. In front of the home crowd and a shockingly aged Ted Williams, Martinez started and threw the first two innings, facing some of the most feared hitters in the game at the height of the PED era. Nevertheless, he showed his superiority, getting five of his six outs by way of the strikeout. Barry Larkin, Larry Walker, Sammy Sosa, Mark McGwire and Jeff Bagwell (2,219 career regular season home runs between them) were all victimized by his electric stuff that night, marking an all-time moment for the Mid-Summer Classic.

Then there was the one-hitter against the New York Yankees in September, 1999. The only hit he allowed was a first-inning home run to Chili Davis, as he went the distance, striking out 17 and walking none. It was not only an exhibition of pitching in the truest sense of the word, it also came against the team’s arch enemy, which was akin to seeing an 85-pound boy mop up the playground with the oversized bully during recess.

If those things weren’t enough for a legendary 1999 season, Martinez saved his best for the postseason. During that year’s ALDS against the Cleveland Indians, he entered pivotal Game 5 in the fourth inning and pitched six no-hit innings despite an ailing back that had forced him out of Game 1, allowing the team to capture the series. Later admitting it was a move that could have jeopardized his career, it can also be seen as a possible turning point for a franchise that had been a doormat for so many years, and just five years later would finally win a World Series.

Even though injury and age depleted his talents by the time he reached his final Boston season in 2004, he was still an integral part of that team. Despite winning 16 games, his 3.90 ERA was more than a run and a half higher than any of his previous Red Sox seasons. That’s why his final start with the team was so fitting. It came in Game 3 of the Series against the St. Louis Cardinals, and Martinez was in vintage form, firing seven shutout innings and putting his team in the driver’s seat for the eventual sweep.

Martinez’ perpetually jovial disposition only flickered on the field. He was certainly not a bad guy but his competitiveness ran fiery hot. There was the 2000 game against the Tampa Bay Devil Rays, when he hit their first batter of the game, Gerald Williams, who promptly charged the mound and instigated a melee. Once order was restored and the bruised batter was ejected, Martinez exacted his revenge. He slammed the door—to the tune of 13 strikeouts and just one additional base runner—a ninth inning single permitted to John Flaherty.

Much like his career on the mound, Martinez shone giving his Hall of Fame acceptance speech. He spent most of his time thanking the many people, both family and those within baseball, he credits with helping him through his baseball journey. The only thing wrong with that is that we, the fans, should be thanking him. He allowed us to see things never before seen or thought to be possible. Along the way he brought a lot of excitement to the game, and in particular, hope and pride to fans of the Red Sox. Legends may fade away but they never truly die. If you ever spent one moment watching Pedro Martinez pitch you’d know that to be true.

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1 comment:

  1. Pedro won two Cy Young awards while playing for Boston. The third was earned with the Expos in 1997. He certainly deserved a fourth CYA for his great 2002 season. The writers foolishly gave it to a less worthy pitcher, Barry Zito.