Thursday, June 22, 2006
  Breaking Up Is Hard To Do
Well, it was only a matter of time before the articles were printed (Michael Silverman from the Boston Herald; Gordon Edes from the Boston Globe), before the involved parties went on the record.

Pedro Jaime Martinez pitches for the New York Mets now. And on the pitching probables list, the man we called Petey and who inspired grown men to paint themselves red and stencil large sheets of posterboard with the letter "K" is coming "home."

Pedro is slated to face - are you ready drama lovers? - Curt Schilling at Fenway Park on Wednesday night. The scumbag scalpers around the park must be licking their chops. If college were in their kids futures, freshmen and sophomore year might be all set after peddling a few Monster seats to that one...

As Michael Silverman of the Boston Herald talked about in his article today, Pedro still owns a home in the Boston area. But he owns more than just a tract of land in expensive Chestnut Hill.

He still occupies one of the most expansive areas in the Hub: as the best pitcher to ever wear the Red Sox uniform.

Hands down. No question.

I know they named the award after the guy, but Pedro's Red Sox career outshines Cy Young's. You can take your 20 strikeout game (or two) and you can send them to Toronto, the Bronx, and Houston for all I care.

Pedro was the best. And we were lucky to see his best. As for fans of Clemens in those other cities, they have gotten to see slices of the Rocket's greatness.

But in Pedro, we had the whole damned cake and we ate it too. And then we moved onto the pie and weren't bashful about helping ourselves to punch and cookies. (Respectfully submitted, Douglas C. Niedermeier, Sargeant-at-Arms.)
This is not to say Pedro's tenure was always smooth sailing. It wasn't.

But for all the hubbub and malarkey about Johnny Damon's decision, how Red Sox Nation was decimated and depressed with him bolting for the Yankees, when put on the Pedro scale, it registers hardly a blip.

Johnny has been summarily booed in his returns so far, and for one reason only: he's a Yankee. (turn on your Paris Hilton speech translator for this next sentence...for someone who's so, like, done with Boston, you sure seem to keep talking about it and giving your opinion...whatever).

Orlando Cabrera, in 2005, got a standing "O." And so far this year, so has Kevin Millar when he came in with the Orioles. The improbable return of Doug Mirabelli and the inspiration return of Gabe Kapler also brought the Fenway Faithful to their feet.

So Johnny, it's not that we don't know how to do it, or that we don't know when to do's all a matter of opportunity costs. If you had signed with, say, the Washington Nationals, there would have been a video montage in centerfield before your first at-bat.

Of course, JD chipped in his two cents worth to the New York Daily News and, well, he's right.

But enough with Johnny Damon. (Paris Hilton voice again, folks...) He's so, like 2004. He's like Sisqo and the "Thong Song." Did you see that catch Coco made?
I penned an article about Pedro's departure at the time of his signing with the Mets. I was in New York at the time and the story was taking shape in both the Big Apple and Best City in the World...and for obvious reasons. The Mets were in full gloat mode, the Sox were in the spin cycle. Hard feelings were abound.

The Sox didn't step to the plate when Pedro wanted them to. They made him wait. When they finally did step in, Pedro unleashed one of his patented inside brushback pitches and then glared at them.

He signed with the Mets, he left Boston in his rearview. Or so he thought.

The point of my piece back then was that Pedro would never have it like he did in Boston. He would never have fans go to the bathroom when the home team was at the plate, in order to not miss one of his pitches. Pedro left with hard feelings, but those feelings would soften.

(cue up the self-pat on the back...) Glad to see that I was sorta right. He won a World Series in Boston and went to the playoffs four times, and while the Mets are in first place, it's not the same. He'd never say it, but he knows it.

Pedro misses Boston.

Boston misses Pedro. Just look at the message from Alexis Jamison, Josh Jamison, and Mike Fortuna, who "sponsor" Petey's page: We love and miss you, Pedro! Good luck in 2006, may you dominate the National League and win the NL Cy Young Award. Go Pedro!

See? Breakups don't always have to be ugly.
So here's the blast from the past Pedro article, from Dec. 17, 2004.

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 lyric little bandbox 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 truly 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" and "lambrum" 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 (I think the were on the main stage at Scores at 11:30 that night...).

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 ALCS 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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