Monday, August 22, 2005
  It's Amazing the Stuff You Find When Cleaning...
Oh man, I can't even begin to describe the esoteric and downright frightening stuff I've found in the nooks and crannies of my lyric little bandbox apartment. About 67 orphaned socks. Two and a half years of Maxim magazine. An unopened box of Wheaties under my couch (?). A VHS copy of my ex-girlfriend's Sweet 16 birthday party (??). A copy of the Magna Carta (???).

What I did not find, ironically enough, was weapons of mass destruction. That seems to be a growing trend, but I digress.

The cleaning process is not just limited to the physical apartment. Since this here laptop is a company-owned machine, I have to hand it in. Because, like Tom Brady, I'm young. And I do what all young people my age do. And if any of the reading public out there needs similar, er, help with that, try this.

From cleaning the floorboards to erasing the cache files, I've come across quite a few things that set me adrift on memory bliss. I've also come across dustballs the size of 5th graders. But I did find an "article" I wrote on Pedro Martinez. I had planned on pitching it around, but after the first "thanks, but no," it transformed from a tome that sprouted from my fingers to merely a text file that took up 199 kb on my C: drive.

I re-read it. And it still meant something to me, even though some of the predictions were wrong or just haven't happened yet. So I'll post it here, with the "this was written in mid-April after I got back from Australia (check!) and it's now late-August" disclaimer. I hope you enjoy.

Will have some fresh material tomorrow, including a review of the 40-Year-Old Virgin after I take in the 8:10 p.m. show tonight.

No matter what, it is more than just a breakup. It is more than simply waking up and deciding that after seven years, times had changed, people had changed and that it is time to move on.

Pedro Martinez, for the last seven years, had one of the most fruitful and remarkable runs with the Boston Red Sox. It was, perhaps, one of the best spans by a professional athlete in Boston sports history. You could even describe the run - and the relationship between him and the fans - as romantic. And now, with Pedro signing a contract for more years and more money than the Red Sox were willing to offer and guarantee, the romance is over. The Pedro Martinez Era is over.

Allow yourself a moment for that to sink in.

In the early days, when it was Pedro's turn to pitch at Fenway, it was a different place. It transformed from the little ballpark with the big green left field wall. Every fifth day, it was Pedro's canvas to paint a masterpiece. On that fifth day, it was Pedro's ballpark and Pedro's team. Hell, from Beacon Hill to Kenmore, it was Pedro's town.

Things felt different. Each of his stoic looks in for the sign from the catcher got you excited, each windup put you on the edge of your seat, each delivery was electric, and each result usually positive. People at Fenway that needed to use the commode did not dare get up from their seats while the Sox were in the field. That would mean they would miss Pedro. If nature called, answer it during the bottom of the inning, not the top. The Fenway faithful would groan when the Sox turned the 6-4-3 inning ending double play or the batter popped one up to the catcher. It meant that Pedro was not going to strike out 27 batters that day. It was a letdown.

That was the feeling - or rather the expectation - for the Red Sox fan in his or her seat at Fenway Park, perched by a television screen, or tuned into the radio for a Pedro Martinez start. Twenty-seven up, twenty-seven down. No hitter. Perfect game. Thirty-five starts a year.

Pedro gave us his best years and his best stuff. In his first three years wearing a forked "B" hat, he gave us 19, 23, and 18 wins, respectively. His ERA was so small that Major League Baseball was rumored to have contracted NASA to help find it (author's note: I made that up).

Back-to-back Cy Young's. Back-to-back AL ERA leader. And, before the Keith Foulke-to-Doug Mientkiewicz became the most important 1-3 in the scorebook in the history of the ballclub, one could argue that Pedro entering game five of the 1999 ALDS against the Indians and firing six innings of no-hit, shutout ball was the single-greatest Sox playoff moment. (Yeah, I said it. Better than Hendu in '86. Better than Pudge in '75.)

Pedro became a one-name entity like Sting and Madonna. He changed a city (Boston), a region (New England), and a nation (Red Sox Nation). By a count of hands, how many of you reading this know three or four swears in Italian? Or in Yiddish? How many of you wear Green on St. Patrick's Day? Well, prior to 1998, how many knew where Santo Domingo was? Could you point out the Dominican Republic on a map? Did you know the meaning of "punchado?"

Probably not, unless your golfing exploits have taken you to the Teeth of the Dog. And that is fine. Pedro became one of us. He helped make us all Dominican, just like we had taken to calling him Petey. In a city without a rich history of ethnic tolerance, especially in regard to professional athletes, Pedro tore down all walls and blurred all lines...without actively trying to, amazingly enough.

As time passed, despite some things beginning to change, it was still Pedro's team. Hideo Nomo threw a no-hitter in game two of the 2001 season. Still Petey's team. Derek Lowe threw a no-no of his own in 2002. Still Pedro's squad.

But after shutting it down after getting win No. 20 in 2001, the walls of his public persona began to crumble - people began to ask "Did Pedro quit, even when we still had a shot at the playoffs?" Then he got hurt and words such as "torn" and "frayed" became part of the lexicon. Pedro seemed to become, gulp, mortal. But the feeling that anything could be accomplished with him on the hill never did. Expecting a 27 K game everytime out began to seem a bit lofty, so fans settled for 15+ through eight innings. Red Sox fans are realists, after all.

And in 2003, with Pedro still slotted as the Sox' No. 1 starter, the K count gave way to the pitch count. Never was this more evident than in game seven of the ALCS, Red Sox fans got to see first hand what Bill James and the statistics folks had been saying about opponent's batting average after pitch 100. (And again, if not for the 1-3 Foulke-Minky exchange on October 27, 2004, most folks would be convulsing right now).

The 2004 season was the final chink in the armor. Since 1998, Pedro had been No. 1. He began the season as No. 1. He ended as 1-a, or depending on whether you use past or present as the indication, 1-b. Pedro playing second fiddle? Pedro as Vice President? Pedro as co-pilot? Pedro as Garfunkel? Wow.

But it is what it is. And it is over. Pedro, depending on what the results of the sure-to-be strenuous physical that the New York Mets baseball club will subject him to, will be honing his craft in Shea Stadium or the next four years. It is done. It is reality. It is, in some ways, sad.
I cannot remember who said it, so I will paraphrase. To measure the worth of a man, or in this case starting pitcher, take inventory of the way things were when he started and when he left. Pedro took the Red Sox to levels never before seen.

He gave the baseball world three of the most dominant back-to-back seasons by a right handed pitcher in modern history. He did it wearing a Red Sox uniform. He went to Yankee Stadium and struck out 17. He threw inside. He threw outside. On occasions, he threw directly at the batter (Gerald Williams says hi). He threw hard. He threw ridiculous change-ups. He threw them all.

Off the field, he was a private man. Never did you read about him in trouble with the law, being unfaithful or behaving inappropriately. With the exception of those lobster roll commercials for McDonald's, Pedro never embarrassed himself or his team.

Finally in 2004, it reached a point Red Sox fans had never imagined. Pedro admitted, in a post-game press conference after losing (again) to the Yankees, that he would tip his cap and call them his Daddy. Mystique and aura had left the building. Someone just popped the balloon. It was the fly in the soup.

But in light of all this, Pedro had the ball in some of the most important October baseball tilts in the history of the game. He had the ball in the ALDS in Anaheim, in the ALCS versus New York and in the World Series in St. Louis. Despite evidence to the contrary, it seemed like it was 1998, 1999, and 2000. It seemed like it was every year in the past where Pedro was on the hill and all was well with the world, kind of like how adjoining Patriot Nation feels with Tom Brady as quarterback.

We all know the ending. The Sox won the World Series and Pedro got his ring. He went to Disney World. He rode the float in the World Series championship parade.

But it was different. Pedro was different. He did not get the ball in game one in Anaheim, it was game two. In New York, he started games two and five. In game two, he earned the loss in an eery replay of game seven of the ALCS in '03. And in game five, his seven inning, four run, six strikeout performance became a footnote to the David Ortiz blast in the 14th inning.

With Curt Schilling's game six heroics, pitching with an ankle that was sutured, stitched and stapled together, Pedro became baseball's version of Shari Lewis - playing behind a famous white tube sock. So in game seven, he came out of the bullpen to help put the finishing touches on the greatest comeback (or choke, depending on your point of view) and his one inning, three hit, two run stat line was hardly impressive. It was hardly akin to him jogging out of the bullpen at Jacobs Field in 1999, when you saw the faces of the Indians, their fans, and their managers just drop, as if to say "Great, now what?"

It was different. Pedro was different. He no longer set up his breaking ball or change with a 96 mph two-seamer anymore. The difference in velocity between the two is hardly noticable, especially to the major league hitter. As recent as the 2003 season, Pedro gave up seven homeruns the entire year, even through the playoffs. In 2004, he gave up eight in the first inning of his starts alone, en route to 26 dingers in total.

But this is not about the numbers. It is not to say he does not still have anything left in the tank or, dare I mention something about being in the twilight of one's career. It is about the end of an era - the greatest era in Red Sox history. It is not just a free agent leaving the Red Sox, like when Fisk, Boggs and Mo were all unceremoniously told to hit the road. It is not seeing a Boston icon in another uniform in the Senior Circuit like Nomar. It is not even about being one of the best right handed pitchers in the game and a first-ballot entry to Cooperstown like Clemens.

For any of the recent stumbles or smears that he took on the field and in the press, it is undeniable that Pedro took a good baseball club and made it great. He took fan dedication to the Sox and helped transform it to an undying passion. He took a historic old ballpark and helped it breathe new life. He made every fifth day bigger than the other four. He brought the diehard and the casual fan together. He introduced those who were not big baseball fans to the game. He made good measure of his worth over the last seven seasons. Pedro left the Red Sox better than when he arrived.

Over the past few days, the computer-savvy have photoshopped Pedro's head into a Mets cap and uniform. Eventually, Omar Minaya and Pedro will have a press conference so that photographers can snap the real thing. They will make it all official. And that will be that, the Pedro Martinez Era will end.

It will be sad. It is sad. Not necessarily for Boston fans, but for those in Queens and the surrounding areas that call themselves Met fans. They will never have it like we did. They will never understand. And, unfortunately I presume, neither will Pedro.
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A daily - or every-other-day - account of all there is in my head
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(I vow to attack this endeavor with an enthusiasm unknown to mankind.)

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