An Ode to Pedro

Pedro Martinez.

So much can be said in these five syllables.

If I attempted to explain what that name means to me, the Red Sox, and the Nation of the Red Sox, I’d still be pounding at my keyboard when the Red Sox win their 27th World Series to surpass the Yankees. Therefore, at the very least, I would be 40. So I think I’ll try to keep it short and yet try to convey to you Red Sox Nation what Pedro means to me, and convey what Pedro means to all of us in the Sox fandom to those reading this column while wearing garb not of the Red Sox.

REWIND to 1996, the first year I became a Red Sox fan. I was ten years old, and was starting to really get into the team. Unfortunately, I became a fan the year after 1995, so I have yet to witness and experience a division title by the Red Sox. We’ll get there, though. I attended my first Red Sox game when I was nine (1995), but I wasn’t too impressed. I told my father and mother to tell me when Mo Vaughn and Jose Canseco got up to bat. When they weren’t, I read a book. The book wasn’t even baseball related. Mo and Jose were it for me. Therefore all I remember about the 1995 season is one game with Mo Vaughn and Jose Canseco.

1996, I fell for the Red Sox – hard. In the span of one month, I became well-versed in the Red Sox language, in the team, and in their ‘cursed’ history. Mike Stanley was still catching in 1996, and he quickly became a favorite of mine. Then you had John Valentin, Jeff Frye (I still remember the day I picked up the newspaper and was floored to hear that the incumbent starting second baseman just handed the job, had torn his ACL), Troy O’Leary, Tim Naehring, Mike Greenwell, Reggie Jefferson, Bill Haselman, Darren Bragg, Roger Clemens, Tom Gordon, Tim Wakefield, Aaron Sele, Heathcliff Slocumb, Mike Stanton, Rich Garces, Jamie Moyer, Vaughn Eshelman, and of course, Mo Vaughn and Jose Canseco. Looking back, I am floored how we ever finished 85-77.

1997 came and went. Mostly went, as we traded Heathcliff Slocumb (boy, he was bad) to the Seattle Mariners for Derek Lowe and Jason Varitek. I remember watching a game with Lowe on the mound. I was disgusted with him, and thought he should be in Pawtucket. 78-84 doesn’t do much to hold your interest when you’re eleven. I was more interested in reading, hanging with friends, and running outside. I do remember Bret Saberhagen being signed and becoming a reliever. He immediately became a cult figure to me, and I have a picture of him hanging in my room back home. 1997 was a team without a bona-fide pitcher. Our ace that season was Tim Wakefield. Consider he is our #5 this season had virtually the same season in 1997 as he did in 2004.

The second year under Jimy Williams was 1998. 1998 changed everything. I picked up the paper, and what did I read?

It’s Martinez for Pavano and one other

This was not anything to sneeze at. Pedro Martinez was 26 years old, and had just started 31 games, going 17-8 in 241.1 innings, a 1.90 ERA, and 305 strikeouts for a 78-84 team. This was not 32 year old Pedro Martinez, starting 33 games, 217.0 IP, 16-9 with a 3.90 ERA and 227 K for a 98-64 team, which turned out to be the 2004 World Series Champions (sorry, just had to say it). No. This was Pedro Martinez, the Best Pitcher On The Face Of The Earth. And you know something? He still is. (For the record, the player to be named was not Peter Munro, current Astros spot starter. It was Tony Armas Jr. who is still an Expo but has been ravaged by injuries recently. He is still young and still holds tremendous promise. Carl Pavano struggled with injuries as an Expo and burst out this year after showing potential last year, with the Florida Marlins. He is currently a free agent.)

The 1998 team was nothing like the 1997 team, and a large reason for that is Pedro Martinez. Pedro became the ace the Red Sox had lacked since 1992, when a dominant Roger Clemens ran up 247.2 innings with a 2.41 ERA and an 18-11 record. In 1998, Pedro went 19-7 in 233.2 IP, with a 2.89 ERA. Baseball was back in Beantown, and the Dominican flag became a staple at Fenway Park, which it remains so today. A band of people took it upon themselves to go to every start by Pedro and hang up “K” signs when Pedro struck out people. They are still around today. They clad themselves in red and you can pick them out by looking for the K signs by the big sign announcing “LOS PUNCHADOS DE PEDRO”.

In 1998, the Red Sox began their string of second place finishes, and won the wild card. In 1999, Pedro then finished an amazing 23-7 with an ERA closer to his great Expo year of ’97 and finished with a 2.07 ERA in 213.1 IP. Again, they won the wild card by winning two more games more than 1998. In 1998, the Red Sox won the first game of the ALDS against the Cleveland Indians behind (whoda thunk it?) Pedro Martinez. The Red Sox lost in four games.

However, 1999 was a lot better than ’98 as the Red Sox had finished 22 games back in 1998, as opposed to four in 1999. This time in the ALDS, they beat the Indians in five. This was the year that Nomar Garciaparra was intentionally walked and Troy O’Leary hit a grand slam in one of the ALDS games. I remember watching this, and leaping off the couch when O’Leary said sayonara. Martinez started Game One, but came out in the fifth. In Game Five, Bret Saberhagen started, and was lifted after two. Derek Lowe came in and didn’t fare so well, so the Red Sox warmed up a pitcher sidelined by a stomach virus … Pedro Martinez. Pedro came in and shut the vaunted Indians’ offense down, for six straight innings. A 12-8 win.

They headed into the ALCS against the Yankees hoping this was the year, but the Yankees beat the Sox handily … except for Pedro Martinez. Pedro pitched Game Three, and was relieved by Tom Gordon in the eighth and Pat Rapp in the ninth. Total, the Yankees scored one run on three hits (in the eighth). Games One and Two were tight, one-run wins by the Yankees. Games Four and Five were solidly in the Yankees’ hands.

The year Two-Thousand (and also the last World Series the Yankees would win) was the last we would see of Vintage Pedro … and what Vintage it was! You can’t argue with 217.0 IP (Coincidentally, it would be the last time until 2004 he would post IPs over 200 … he had 217.0 this year) with a 18-6 record, 7 complete games, 4 shutouts, 284 K and a … 1.74 ERA. Best season ever. And this was with 29 starts!

It was pure joy to watch Pedro in ’99 and ’00. Especially May 28th, 2000. Pedro and Roger Clemens in a duel for the ages, in which Pedro strikes out a pitiful nine (it was pitiful then) and Clemens K’s 13 … but throws a bad pitch to Trot Nixon who deposits it in the right field seats to win the game 2-0. After that game, Pedro’s era was 1.05! I also remember picking up the paper July 27th (this time it was the Worcester Telegram and Gazette) and seeing head shots of six players. It was a megadeal that Dan Duquette had just pulled off! The Colorado Rockies traded Rolando Arrojo, Rich Croushore, Mike Lansing, and cash to the Boston Red Sox for Jeff Frye, Brian Rose, John Wasdin, and Jeff Taglienti (minors). This was huge. Frye, a fan favorite and Rose, a hotshot prospect, were moving on. Wasdin … well, we were glad to see “Way-Back” gone. In exchanse, we got Rolando Arrojo, a starter and reliever who had been a Devil Ray, their best pitcher. We had also gotten Mike Lansing, who could help fill in at shortstop, as Nomar was struggling with his wrist. I also remember when we got Dante Bichette.

I was SO pumped about these trades! I thought those were the keys we needed. And boy, was Carl Everett producing! Alas … from 2000 – 2002, three seasons too long, we missed out on the playoffs. The ‘decline’ of the Red Sox coincided with the end of the Vintage Pedro era. In 2001, a season I would like to forget, Pedro made 18 starts. He was scintillating as ever in those starts, but went down due to injury, like Jason Varitek. Pedro was having trouble with his arm, and didn’t know if he’d be the same ever again. He didn’t want surgery – he had the same injury that Ramon Martinez had and that surgery derailed Ramon’s career. No, he was going to be cautious with it. If you remember, 2001 was also officially the ‘Crazy Carl‘ era.

Pedro managed to quiet most critics in 2002, pitching 199.1 IP with a 20-4 win-loss record and a 2.26 ERA. (By the way, the last time his ERA was over 3.00 was back when he was 25 with the Expos.) Despite the good season, we could tell Pedro was slipping. Pedro’s Strikeouts Per Nine Innings (K/9) were decreasing. What follows is his K/9 since 1997, his last season in an Expos uniform, up until 2002 (note the aberration in 1998 – strange): 11.37, 9.67, 13.20, 11.78, 12.57, 10.79. In 1999, he struck out an average of 13 batters in a 9-inning game. It was down to 10.79 in 2002. Not so bad, but keep in mind the last time Pedro had pitched less than 200 innings was back in 1995. In 2003, his stamina went way down, 29 games started, 186.2 innings pitched, 14-4 record, 9.93 K/9, and a 7.09 Hits/9 (highest since 1995), but his ERA stayed shockingly low – 2.22. We all know what happened in 2003 with the team, so it doesn’t bear a recap.

Throughout this, Pedro was losing his star luster with the media. Instead of one big lovefest, Pedro was only getting the lovefest from the fans, not the media. The media was questioning Pedro’s drive, questioning his shoulder, even questioning the contract. (I remember them doing this in 2002, a full year before he was to be a free-agent, and an option for 2004!) Pedro was getting fustrated, and didn’t feel like he deserved the disrespect of doubt. I’ll admit for a fleeting period of time, I was a doubter – I worried. But I reassured myself that this was Pedro Martinez. While I could tell he was not himself, I could also tell he was having a dominant 2003 season.

Then came 2004, and the arrival of Curt Schilling. Pedro’s option had long been since picked up (picked up in Spring Training of 2003) by the new ownership. This was the hot-button issue of the 2003 Spring Training. Pedro felt he deserved the respect to have the option be picked up (key number one why I think Pedro will re-sign; he wanted the option picked up to stay) and thought he had earned it. The option was picked up, making him the highest paid pitcher in 2004 – 17.5 million dollars. In 2004, the World Championship year, Pedro slipped. He didn’t slip to a horrible pitcher, but he slipped. A H/9 of 8.00 (highest since 1990 – Great Falls, the Pioneer League when he was 18 years of age and still a Dodger) and his K/9 decreased further to 9.41, lowest since 1992, his last year in Triple-A and his cup of coffee in the majors as a Dodger. His record was still a scintillating 16-9 (thank you, offense) but his ERA was 3.90. No, that’s not a typo. Pedro posted an ERA above 3.00! First time above 3.00 since 1996, and his highest ERA ever while playing professionally.

In the 2004 postseason, Pedro appeared in five games, starting four. He had a 4.00 ERA in 27.0 IP (23 H, 26 K) with a 2-1 record. In the World Series, he won Game Three, hurling a beauty of a game – 7 IP, 3 H, 2 BB, 6 K. This was the Pedro we knew from 1999 and 2000.

Pedro is now a free agent.

According to the writers, (in other words, take it with a boulder-sized grain of salt) Pedro will not be back. He will be an Angel, a Yankee, a Dodger, a Giant…

I don’t want him in those uniforms. I don’t particularly care about the highest ERA ever professionally, the increasing H/9, the decreasing K/9. I don’t care that the writers espouse that some team (the Angels) will overpay Pedro by $20 million dollars. Pedro has stated he does not want to break the bank and only wants to be paid on par with other pitchers of his caliber. (Read: 13-14 million a year.) I don’t care about anything, but Pedro Martinez (who is 33, I may add, and therefore is going to be around for 4-6 more years) staying in a Red Sox uniform and retiring in a Red Sox uniform, like he should.

He won a World Series in Boston. If you think that won’t factor into the contract discussions in a postive way, you’re dead wrong. Pedro wanted, and now has three things. One – fame. Two – money. Three – a ring. I could see Pedro leaving after 2001, even 2002. But 2004? After this magical ride, this great team, the commitment of the ownership? Pedro knows his best chance to get another ring is right here. Theo Epstein has gone on record saying that this team WILL compete for the World Series through at least 2007. (Part of the plug for Curt Schilling to agree to be traded to the Red Sox.) A three-year contract takes Pedro through 2007. Sign the man to a three-year contract and give him a team option for 2008 that will vest automatically if he starts an average of 26 games a year for three years. Give him 36 million. He’s earned it.

This man is the best pitcher alive, and draws comparisons directly to Sandy Koufax. These are Koufaxian numbers in an offensive era. Give me one man to build my team around, even at this age (and really, what’s wrong with age 32?), and I would pick Pedro. Pedro’s build has drawn much criticism in the past, but he’s been able to withstand it so far. Perhaps in said contract you can put in ways to counteract a season-ending injury. Say maybe the contract can be voided if there is an injury to a particular part of the body. (See Rodriguez, Ivan.) But don’t let the man walk!

He means a lot to the city of Boston. He gave us hope when there was none. He brought life to the Boston franchise. Pedro always pitches with his heart on his shoulder, his guts on the mound, and there’s nothing more beautiful than a 97-mph heater from Pedro Martinez smacking into Jason Varitek’s glove. Contrary to popular belief, Pedro can gun it up to 97-mph still. He just chooses not to. He can’t withstain the stress on the shoulder, so he guns it up when he has to. In the regular season, he was starting out around 89-90 and would gun it to 94-95 when needed. Relieving against the Yankees in the 2004 ALCS, he took a little time to get moving, hanging around 89-90. It’s no coincidence the Yankees’ “rally” was quenched when we started seeing 97-mph heaters. In the World Series, I consistently saw 93-94 mph heaters.

I grew up with Pedro Martinez baffling hitters. I grew up with raising my eyebrows everytime Pedro gave up a hit. It was a rarity. Wait, did Pedro just give up a hit? It was even more a rarity when a run scored off of him. Dude! Did you see Pedro last night!? One run? What’s wrong with him!? While we can’t say that about Pedro anymore, the entire city of Boston still comes alive when Pedro pitches. The fans come out clad in red, waving little Dominican flags. There’s an aura of invincibility and an air of excitement. “LOS PUNCHADOS DE PEDRO” can be seen on the outfield wall. It’s a hot, sunny day in July, and Pedro Martinez is starting. What could be better?

Pedro Martinez.

Not enough can be said.