Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Hall Of Fame Opens Doors To Martinez This Weekend

Cooperstown will officially welcome one of the all-time great pitchers on Sunday, Pedro Martinez.

Martinez broke in to the big leagues as a Dodger, won his first Cy Young with the Expos, and finished his career with the Mets and Phillies but he is best known for his stretch of dominance with the Red Sox from 1998-2004.

When he came to Boston in a trade that sent Carl Pavano and Tony Armas Jr. to the Expos in November 1997, the Red Sox were not just picking up the reigning N.L. Cy Young winner they were acquiring the best pitcher of his generation.

Martinez immediately became the guy you could not miss pitch.  Fenway was electric for his starts, which in the late 1990's was not a common occurrence.  That was back in the days when there were plenty of affordable and available seats on Yawkey Way but the nights that Pedro took the mound quickly became a tough ticket to get.  In those early years of his time in Boston the flag of his home nation, the Dominican Republic, was as visible at Fenway as the Green Monster and ice cold draft beers.  Pedro's starts were events.

The Red Sox also began their transformation from the lovable loser who played in a bandbox of an old ballpark into the powerhouse that they have become in the 21st Century.  In those years of the late 90's and early 00's, the Red Sox were either in the playoffs or contending to get in based on Pedro's right arm and the play of Nomar Garciaparra in the field and at the plate.  Look back at some of those Red Sox rosters on Baseball-Reference some time, there was not a lot there.

In 1998 and 1999, Pedro pitched the Red Sox to appearances in the playoffs with the '99 team advancing to the ALCS.  For the first time since 1990, there was hope that the team could be a winner.  Again, that's all due to his pitching and the play of Garciaparra.  It was not a great team but it had two great players. Martinez and Garciaparra gave the franchise hope.  One of his greatest career moments came in Game 5 of the 1999 ALDS in Cleveland when Pedro emerged from the bullpen with a bad shoulder to shut down the Indians and get the Red Sox into the ALCS.  He also won the team's only ALCS game, a 13-1 blowout in Game 3 in which Pedro claimed victory over the previous Red Sox ace, Roger Clemens.

A quick glance at Pedro's stats from 1998-2000 gives you a glimpse into his dominance.  Statistics in bold represent that he led the A.L. in that category, if it is in bold and italics that means he led all of baseball.

1998: 19-7, 2.89 ERA, 251 strikeouts, 1.091 WHIP, 3.75 strikeout-to-walk ratio
1999: 23-4, 2.07 ERA, 313 strikeouts, 0.923 WHIP, 8.46 strikeout-to-walk ratio
2000: 18-6, 1.74 ERA, 284 strikeouts, 0.737 WHIP, 8.88 strikeout-to-walk ratio

In '98 he was runner-up for the A.L. Cy Young award and then won back-to-back Cy Young's in '99 and '00.

Statistics do not do Pedro justice, even numbers as good as his.  Look at the video clip at the top of the post.  He just dominated opposing hitters.  Fast forward to about the 4:00 mark, which covers his two innings pitched at the 1999 All-Star Game at Fenway Park when he struck out Barry Larkin, Larry Walker, Sammy Sosa, and Mark McGwire to start the game and then after Matt Williams reached on an error he struck out Jeff Bagwell with Williams being caught stealing on the same play.  His dominance was unmatched and when you take into account that this period was the height of the steroid era in baseball, it is even more amazing to consider his brilliance.

After an injury riddled 2001 season, Pedro's last three years with Boston were not as great as the 1998-2000 run but were still excellent.

2002: 20-4, 2.26 ERA, 239 strikeouts, 0.923 WHIP, 5.98 strikeout-to-walk ratio
2003: 14-4, 2.22 ERA, 206 strikeouts, 1.039 WHIP, 4.38 strikeout-to-walk ratio
2004: 16-9, 3.90 ERA, 227 strikeouts, 1.171 WHIP, 3.72 strikeout-to-walk ratio

2002 earned him a second place finish in the Cy Young race and he finished third in 2003 and fourth in 2004.  Even as age and injury were catching up to him, Martinez was still considered elite.

The 2003 and 2004 teams also gave Pedro his first real shot at a championship.  The '03 Red Sox won the Wild Card and then beat the Athletics to earn a shot at the Yankees in the ALCS.  Pedro pitched Game 7 in New York and with the Red Sox holding a 5-2 lead going into the bottom of the eighth inning, manager Grady Little decided to keep him in the game even as his pitch count was increasing and his fastball was losing velocity.  The Yankees would tie the game in the eighth and go on to win in extra innings.  Another crushing loss for the Red Sox in their history of crushing losses but it was not the end for Pedro.

In 2004 he was joined by co-ace Curt Schilling, the first time that Pedro had a pitcher who could match his dominance while on the Red Sox, and pitched the team by the Yankees in the ALCS in dramatic fashion after New York had taken the first three games and then won Game 3 of the World Series against the Cardinals as Boston won its first World Series title since 1918.

None of the Red Sox success - the 2004 championship or the subsequent titles in 2007 and 2013 - would have happened without Pedro Martinez.  His pitching breathed new life into the franchise and convinced management and ownership to pay the hefty prices to acquire talents like Manny Ramirez and Schilling while also putting up the money to keep their own players from leaving town.

Sadly for Red Sox fans, Pedro was not one of the players that was paid to stay.  After 2004 the Red Sox gambled that Martinez' dominance was about to end and they let him leave as a free agent.  Signing with the Mets, Pedro never again contended for the Cy Young but he was a N.L. All-Star in 2005 and 2006, the last two appearances of the 8 All-Star Games he would make in his career, and then after signing with the Phillies in 2009 he made one last appearance in the World Series which, ironically for Pedro, ended with a loss to the Yankees.

In the history of the game, Pedro Martinez will go down as one of the greatest pitchers ever to take the mound.  Facing hitters that were popping performance-enhancing drugs like they were Skittles the 5-11, 175-pound righty from the Dominican Republic used a powerful fastball, deceiving change-up, and nasty curve ball to make the Boston Red Sox a championship franchise and earn his way into baseball immortality in the Hall of Fame.  There was no one like him before and there will never be anyone like him in the future.

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