Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Pedro Martinez: An Appreciation

I wrote this column for Bornintoit.com earlier today. I thought I would share it with all of you here as well.

Pedro Martinez: An Appreciation

On November 18, 1997, I wasn't happy. Even though the Red Sox had just made a trade that would ultimately change the course of the franchise, I wasn't thrilled about it. The Sox had sent pitchers Carl Pavano and Tony Armas Jr. to the Montreal Expos for Cy Young Award-winning pitcher Pedro Martinez. Back in those days, the Red Sox management was known for their stingy ways, and Martinez would be a free agent after the 1998 season. I figured he'd play in Boston for one season and be gone the next.

But the Red Sox proved me wrong, as later that winter, they signed Pedro to a seven-year, $87.5 million contract. It would truly be one, if not, the best signings in club history.

Pedro's Red Sox (and Hall-of-Fame) resume is nothing short of glittering. Consider this:

Two-time Cy Young Award Award winner in 1999 and 2000.
Finished in the top 4 in the Cy Young voting every year except his injury-plagued year of 2001.
ERA under 3.00 every year except 2004.
Won twenty or more game twice.
Winning percentage over .640 all seven seasons.
Never lost more than 9 games in a season.
Struck out over 300 twice.
Had an ERA of 1.74 in 1999, one of the greatest seasons any pitcher has ever had.

1999 was Pedro's glory year. He simply overwhelmed AL hitters that year, and certainly deserved to win the AL MVP that year, had it not been for an idiotic sports writer in New York leaving him completely off his ballot. His 17-strikeout game against the Yankees in New York on September 10 is still the best pitched game I have ever seen. Pedro's six no-hit innings in relief to beat the Indians and put the Sox in the ALCS is now the stuff of legend. Unfortunately that season the Red Sox didn't have the supporting cast to get them to the World Series.

But in the final year of his contract, the cast was there. And he went out with a bang.

On October 26, 2004, Pedro Martinez pitched his final game in a Red Sox uniform. He was simply dazzling in shutting down the NL champion St. Louis Cardinals, pitching seven shutout innings and winning Game 3. It was Pedro's swansong, and it was like he was saying to his fans in Boston: Here's one final memory to last a lifetime.

I'm here to say thank you to Pedro Martinez for all he did in his seven years as a Boston Red Sox pitcher. Every game he pitched at Fenway seemed like an event. I saw him pitch live at Fenway twice, both in 1999. I was at Game 3 of the ALCS, when he completely dazzled the Yankees over seven innings, allowing just two hits as the Sox steamrolled Roger Clemens, 13-1. It is still one of my favorite days in any ballpark.

Thank you for that Pedro.

Over the last few weeks there has been a lot of speculation as to how the fans will react to Pedro's return as a Mets pitcher at Fenway Park on June 28th. Pedro himself is concerned about it, as deep down he probably fears hearing Boston fans booing him for departing the city as a free agent in 2004. He's aware of how the fans treated Johnny Damon upon his Fenway return back in May. But I'm here to tell you right now Pedro: you have nothing to worry about.

I will bet everything I own that the Fenway faithful will give him the rousing ovation that he deserves. Just about all of my friends here in New York who are Red Sox fans feel the same way that I do. In some circles there are those who are actively advocating that Pedro be booed upon his return (you know the ones, they call him "Pay-dro"). To me, that is completely asinine (and it is also from people with hidden agendas). I would imagine there will be a few scattered boos on Wednesday, but they will be completely drowned out by those who appreciate everything Pedro did for this storied franchise. He may have gone to New York, but he did NOT put on a Yankee uniform. Pedro once said he never would, and unlike some other "idiot," he was a man of his word.

Pedro leaving for the Mets in December 2004 made all the sense in the world for him. Mets GM Omar Minaya was determined to land him as the face of his franchise, and he knew that by getting Pedro, ticket sales at Shea would zoom (and he was right). He offered Pedro a four-year deal, something the Sox front office would not do. Minaya was roundly criticized in many circles for doing that, but few are bashing him for it today. The Red Sox front office did not want to commit to such a long-term deal with Pedro, as concerns about his shoulder and how much he had left in it, kept them from offering such a deal. The Red Sox went in another direction and brought in Matt Clement as a free agent (less said about that the better).

For Pedro, going to New York has paid off for him handsomely. He is now the number one starter again, something he lost when Curt Schilling got to Boston in 2004, and in the biggest market in America. He also goes to pitcher-friendly National League, and doesn't have to face a DH anymore. It will certainly help his pitching numbers, especially as he gets older. He also is part of an up-and-coming Mets team that is putting together a very good nucleus for the future with the likes of Jose Reyes, David Wright, Carlos Beltran and Lastings Milledge. The Mets can be very good and for a long time.

If for nothing else, Pedro was part of the group that brought the Red Sox their first world championship in 86 years, and they did it in grand style. So far all the Sox players that have returned to Fenway in opposition uniforms have gotten very warm receptions, such as Orlando Cabrera and Kevin Millar. There is, of course, one exception, Johnny Damon. Damon got booed for various reasons, but the two that of course stand out was the fact he was wearing the wrong uniform (the one with the pinstripes), and the fact that the year before he said that he would never wear that uniform. Lying to Red Sox Nation is never a good thing, as Damon found out. If he had returned in any other uniform, his first night back would have been nothing short of a lovefest.

So that's why Pedro has nothing to be concerned about. He has said that he loves the Boston fans, and doesn't want to pitch against his old friends on the Sox (and I believe him). But he's a professional, and will do what he has to do as a Mets pitcher.

I'll be at my favorite watering hole in the East Village watching the Red Sox-Mets game on Wednesday night. And when Pedro comes out to the mound in the bottom of the first, I will be standing and applauding. He deserves it, despite what some know-nothings say. Do I wish he was back in a Red Sox uniform? Sure, but frankly, it's time to move on from that. We should just give him the appreciation he so richly deserves to get. One last time.

And I'm sure that Red Sox Nation, from Fenway Park to wherever Red Sox fans congregate, will be doing just that.

Thanks for the memories Pedro. Thanks for being part of the greatest Red Sox team ever. Continued success in New York.


Peter N said...

Peter Gammons...brain anneurism..they're operating now. Makes the GAME of baseball seem like a game.

BklynSoxFan said...

My prayers are with Mr. Gammons and his family.

Michael Leggett said...

Gammons is in ICU in Boston:

Pedro is now the Face of The Mets;

Attendance is up @ Shea, DRAMATICALLY;

& Silva & BDD, are a pack of Slimy Racists;

Great job by SNY, tonight.

Suldog said...

I'll never forget the smile on Pedro's face from the time the Sox won game four vs. St. Louis, all the way through the parade. He was THE happiest man in Boston - and that took in an awful lot of territory following that victory.