Friday, July 25, 2008

Happy Birthday Pedro

...according to Total Baseball anyway. (And, I didn't know what else to write.)

I remember the first time I heard that the Sox were getting Pedro Martinez. My dad told me that he heard that the Sox had traded for a pitcher…Martinez. When I asked which one, he wasn’t sure. He thought maybe a “Pedro”. I knew that couldn’t be true. My Sox did not trade for Cy Young award winners in their prime. The Sox I knew traded for washed up players who used to be good. If the Red Sox acquired a Martinez, clearly it was Ramon. He used to be good, but was battling injuries and hadn’t been effective in years. That’s the kind of player the Sox traded for. The radio report must have just mentioned that he was Pedro’s brother. That’s obviously where Pedro fit in. But, after confirming the details of the trade, it was true. The Sox had just acquired the best pitcher in the NL. That was amazing. Then, they went ahead and signed him long-term. The Pedro Martinez Era had begun. Nobody could have guessed what a ride it would be.

Pedro delivered right out of the gate with a fantastic 1998 season. He was in the Cy Young hunt all season, and could easily have won the award. His best Sox season was the next one. In 1999 Pedro had what is probably the best season any pitcher on any team has ever had. A couple of my favorite memories of that year:

The 1999 All-Star Game. Pedro came out and showed exactly how great he was. Sure, it’s an exhibition. But, even in an exhibition, I bet the NL wanted to at least put the ball in play a couple times. Pedro struck out 5 of the 6 batters he faced and made all five of them look silly. He had all his pitches dancing, and it was a joy to work. Being in the park to witness that might be the baseball highlight of my life.

The Yankee Game. Pitchers rack up strikeouts in games sometimes. Pedro once struck out 17 Devil Rays. Roger Clemens struck out 20 Mariners and Tigers. Kerry Wood struck out 20 Astros once. Pitchers throw no-hitters and one-hitters. Derek Lowe no-hit the Devil Rays, Clay Buchholz no-hit the Orioles. This was different though. Pedro Martinez struck out 17 batters in a one-hit effort against the New York Yankees. In the Bronx. This wasn’t a cellar dweller with a nothing line-up. This was the defending World Series Champs. This was the team that would win the 1999 World Series. This was the utmost sports dynasty of the decade, and Pedro made them look absolutely foolish. Made them look foolish wearing their pinstriped pajamas. Incredible.

The Player’s Choice. At the end of the 1999 season, they had the Player’s Choice Awards. These were awards, voted on by the players themselves. It’s like many award shows, with nominees leading to the eventual winner. In the category for “Best AL pitcher” the nominees were Pedro Martinez and….that’s it. Just Pedro. He was so clearly the best, they didn’t even bother with the exercise. It wasn’t even worth having someone else in the conversation for the benefit of the show. It was Pedro, and there was everyone else. Unbelievable.

And, we all know what happened from there. Pedro won a couple Cy Young awards with the Sox, and should have won a third. His last start for Boston was a convincing victory in Game 3 of the 2004 World Series as he finally brought a title to Boston. He’s currently finishing out his hall-of-Fame career in NY. (The good NY) In his wake, he changed the way I look at Red Sox pitchers. Schilling…Beckett…Dice-K…they’ll never measure up. I’ll never fully appreciate their accomplishments in my mind because, well, they’re not Pedro.

Anyone else have a favorite Pedro story to share?

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