Wednesday, June 28, 2006

The Best We'll Ever See

To mark the return of one Pedro J. Martinez to the Fenway mound tonight (hopefully - it's raining yet again), I wanted to take a few minutes to opine on the greatest pitcher my eyes have ever seen. Forget for a moment his diva-esque ways, the special rules, his inexcusable absence from Game 6 in NYC in the '04 ALCS, and my personal low Pedro moment, when he almost decapitated Karim Garcia with a fastball for no apparent reason.

Instead, focus with me on the fact that for a three-year period -- from 1998 to 2000 - this guy was just plain unhittable. The averages during those three years: 2.20 ERA, 20 wins, 282 k's, 45 bb's. Of course, the peak was 1999 when he went 23-4, struck out 313 and walked only 37. That was the year Petey pitched in the All-Star Game at Fenway Park and reared back to strike out a murderer's row of NL bashers, including Mark McGwire, Sammy Sosa, and Jeff Bagwell. My all-time goosebump Pedro moment. We've heard our father and grandfathers wax poetic about Bob Gibson or Sandy Koufax. When we're talking to our kids about great ballplayers, Pedro will be on the list. We'll talk about the 17 strikeout game in Yankee Stadium in May 1999, the six innings of relief against Cleveland in the ALDS that year to win the deciding Game 5, and the rush of seeing Pedro mow down the NL's best hitters that hot July. The fact that he accomplished what he did during the Steroid Era only adds to his legacy.

To understand the road Pedro took to get to where he is today, I highly recommend reading an article written by Alan Schwarz of Baseball America back in 1998. It's a bit lengthy, but an incredible read - and one that will make you appreciate both how far Pedro has come (from sitting under the mango trees) and his overall goofiness. If you want a copy, drop me a comment with your contact info and I'll gladly send along.

As far as the debate over whether Pedro gets an ovation or not, I think that was answered resoundingly last night - when the guy wasn't even starting. The Sox showed a video tribute featuring Pedro and when it was all done, the fans clamored for him to emerge from the dugout and he obliged. Let's just say Johnny Damon would be jealous. The moral of the story - if you're going to leave the Red Sox, and we know it happens - try to avoid wearing pinstripes. The ovation tonight will be deafening, and much deserved - and I think a lot of people are going to feel a tinge of sadness that we had to lose a guy like Pedro. In the end, I believe they made the right baseball decision, but goddamn it would be fun to have him around.

Thanks for the shout-out, Kampy -- that story on Pedro is one of my favorites in my 15 year career. (Ever since, Pedro has been one of my favorite athletes.) If anyone wants to read it, it actually was reprinted as a chapter in "Boston Red Sox: 100 Years, The Official Retrospective", which was published several years ago. See ya.
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