Welcome back, Pedro. It was great to see Sox fans give him a warm welcome Tuesday night and I would think it’s going to give everyone with a pulse chills to see him take that Fenway mound again for the first time since Game 5 of the 2004 ALCS wearing a (Gulp!) Mets uniform.
Before that raw emotion takes place, I just want to say that watching Pedro Martinez pitch every fifth day for my first three years as a Red Sox beat writer was probably the biggest privilege that came with the job. This guy isn’t just a pitcher. He’s an artist. He’s a master at his craft. And he’s a fierce, fierce competitor.
Aside from that, I found him to be an engaging person. When you spoke to Pedro, he looked you in the eye and spoke to you like a human being. Not every superstar athlete does that — trust me. Pedro was a diva, yes. But he was also very real, and I miss following his career on an eveyrday basis.
Before moving on to tomorrow night, I wanted to re-live some the Pedro moments that still stick out in my mind, some of which took place during his golden years (1998-2000) when I was a baseball columnist for CBS SportsLine instead of a Red Sox beat writer.
Moment 1: May, 1999, Friday night against the Angels. I was dispatched to Boston (I was based in New York at the time) to chronicle Mo Vaughn’s first visit back to Fenway since leaving the Sox. But Pedro completely stole the show. He struck out 15 and didn’t walk anybody and the Fenway faithful roared with every pitch. That was the first time I saw live just how awesome Pedro was as a pitcher. It seemed like luck every time an opposing batter made contact.
Moment 2: July 13, 1999: The All-Star Game at Fenway. Again, I was lucky enough to cover this. Enough said. Pedro was truly caught up in this moment, electrified by the stage he was on. He threw pure heat, blowing high 90s mustard by the likes of McGwire, Sosa and Bagwell. He made them all look ridiculous. And for hours after the game, Pedro had a glow about him as he walked around the field with the MVP trophy. I later saw a DVD bonus feature of Pedro taking that trophy up to the owner’s box, where Ted Williams was. Watching those two giants of the game interract on that DVD is must-watch material for anyone who does not own the Red Sox 100-year anniversary DVD.
Moment 3: September, 1999: This was the greatest pitching performance I’ve ever witnessed from a pressbox, and it occured at Yankee Stadium. It was a Friday night and the plucky Sox were making the Yankees nervous during a late-season run. At this time, the Yankees were at their peak. They had Jeter, Bernie, Tino, O’Neill, Brosius, Posada and all those pitchers. Pedro hit Chuck Knoblauch in the Yankees’ first, then gave up a Chili Davis solo homer in the second. After that? There wasn’t a pinstriped baserunner for the rest of the night. Pedro pitched a one-hitter with 17 strikeouts against what was arguably the best lineup in baseball. At this time, he was Michael Jordan in a baseball uniform. Absolutely untouchable.
Moment 4: October, 1999: Game 3 of the ALCS, Red Sox vs. Yankees, Pedro vs. Clemens. This game truly was billed like a heavyweight fight. I remember walking into Fenway some three to four hours before the game on this sun-splashed afternoon and there was a palpable buzz on Yawkey Way, one like I had never really felt before. If it was indeed a heavyweight bout, it was en early knockout. Valentin took Clemens deep in the first. And Pedro, who had arm woes that fall that kept is velocity between 87-91, was beating the Yankees on guts and reputation. It was the only game the Sox won in the series, but also one that still stands out all these years later.
Moment 5: Memorial Day, 2000: A Clemens-Pedro rematch in the Bronx, and this one lived up to every expecation placed upon it and more. Clemens, pitching what was basically his coming out game in a Yankees uniform, was utterly brilliant. He was overpowering the Sox. Pedro wasn’t as overpowering as usual, but still on his game. The game was 0-0 entering the ninth when Trot Nixon took Roger deep for a two-run homer. Pedro stifled the Yankees in the bottom of the inning to finish off the shutout. People don’t remember now that Pedro was pretty invincible against the Yankees the first three years he was on the team. This was an ESPN Sunday Night Game, giving the nation an idea of Pedro’s greatness.
Moment 5: June, 2002: Red Sox-Padres in San Diego. Pedro kept saying early in that season that he was in "Wonderland", not quite knowing how he would respond from the serious rotator cuff woes of the year before. On this night, the Padres were just wondering how to hit him. They couldn’t. Pedro pitched a two-hit masterpiece, showing that he was back to his Cy Young Award form. He went on to win 20 games in ’02 and was robbed in the Cy Young Award voting against Barry Zito. Let the record show that this absolutely should have been Pedro’s fourth Cy. He had Zito in every important category but wins. What a joke.
Moment 6: October, 2003: Red Sox-Yankees, Game 7 of the ALCS. Pedro against Clemens in what seemed like the biggest game any of us had ever seen. Clemens got knocked out early but Mussina saved the Yankees’ bacon. Pedro was pitching a gem early, save for two Giambi solo shots that barely cleared the wall. He struck out Soriano with two on and two outs to end the seventh and then pointed to tke sky, as he always did when he believed his night was over. Nomar hugged him in the dugout. He got several other well wishes. And somewhere along the line, Grady Little surprised Pedro and the rest of the baseball world by telling him to go back out for the eight. Being a competitor of the highest order, Pedro wasn’t about to say no. So he went out there and got Nick Johnson on that pop to Nomar. Just five outs left and a 5-2 lead. The Red Sox were about to play the Marlins in the World Series. And then disaster struck. A Jeter double over Trot’s head; a Bernie single up the middle to make it 5-3; A Matsui double to make it second and third. Then that utterly cheap bloop by Posada, a two-run double (A double because none of the stunned Red Sox covered second) to tie the game. What I remember most about that night is seeing Pedro’s glassy eyes in the clubhouse after the game. It was the first time he had ever looked mortal. He was in pain and I don’t believe it possibly could have gone away until the next October.
Moment 7: October, 2004, Game 2 of the Division Series against the Angels. The talk going into the game was that Pedro had lost his aura. Schilling had supplanted him as the ace going into the playoffs and Pedro had uttered the infamous "I guess the Yankees are my daddy’s" comment just a couple of weeks early. But this prideful man came out throwing heat, and delivered a win for the Sox, bringing the series back to Fenway with Boston leading 2-0 in the best-of-five set. Pedro put it best after that game when he said that any time he took the mound, he felt like an ace, no matter what pitching slot he might be at in a given series.
Moment 8: October 26, 2004, Game 3 of the World Series against the Cardinals. Could Pedro have picked a better final chapter in a Red Sox uniform than pitching seven shutout innings to put the Red Sox on the precipice of their first title in 86 years. Pedro was a little wobbly early but Manny bailed him out with a great throw from left to nail Larry Walker at the plate in the first, and Jeff Suppan ran the Cardinals out of a rally by somehow not scoring from third on a grounder to the right side and then getting thrown out by David Ortiz. Pedro got on a roll after that, making sure his last outing in a Sox uniform would be one without a blemish.
Moment 9 — closure — will come Wednesday night and I bet there isn’t a baseball soul in Boston who isn’t highly curious to see how it unfolds.