One of the very silliest things a very silly man who has a very large audience ever said regarded Pedro Martinez in April 2005. Pedro Martinez’s former team was presenting world championship rings to its players from the year before on the same day Pedro Martinez’s new team was opening its home season. Some of Pedro Martinez’s former teammates who were no longer with that team were flying in for the occasion because they weren’t playing for their new teams on that given day. As it happened, Pedro Martinez wouldn’t be pitching for his new team either. It wouldn’t have been a long flight had he decided to participate in his old team’s ceremonies, and nobody rational would have much begrudged him much his opting to briefly detour into his recent past as he had been such a large part of his old team. But he never looked back, never made any move to return to his old team, even for a celebratory cameo. He was with his new team to stay.
The silly man with the large audience managed to find fault in Pedro Martinez’s decision. “Pedro Martinez should be in Boston to get his ring,” the silly man said. “Pedro’s a Red Sock! Pedro’s not a Met!”
Sunday reminded us Pedro Martinez is more than a Met. He is the Met on these Mets. Due respect to other names and other numbers that dot the backs of our tribe, it is MARTINEZ 45 that truly cloaks us. He is the flagship player of this franchise. He is our banner, our symbol, our coat of arms. And when he showed up to pitch from the Shea Stadium mound for the first time in 2007, I was reminded as well that there is truth in advertising. It took 142 games, but our season had come.
Pedro Martinez has made 56 starts in a New York Mets uniform. Each one, no matter the outcome, has been a revelation in its way. Because of the mishaps and recurring hurts that eventually manifested themselves in the surgery that removed him from the rotation for nearly twelve months, it seems we are always welcoming him back to the mound. But even when he was a fifth-day staple throughout 2005 and the first third of 2006, it was never business as usual for a Pedro Martinez start. How could it be? This was a man who brought with him and unto us the most outsized reputation in all of pitching. You didn’t need statistics. You didn’t need footage. You just needed to hear “Pedro,” and no explanations were necessary. Fifty-five times before Sunday, when I checked to see who was pitching, it was never a small detail to confirm it would be Martinez (R). It wasn’t yesterday either.
Welcome back, Pedro. Again.
We surely haven’t received the Pedro of yore, the Pedro of before he signed. That Pedro was something to see from a distance. But we’re getting what we paid for. They said four years were too many to give someone already shading past his peak, someone so slight, someone brushing up against his physical breaking point. I’m sitting in the mezzanine yesterday thinking how sad it is we only have Pedro under contract for one more year.
This Pedro is something to see up close.
When has a five-inning start meant this much? When has a five-inning start sparked the kind of reverence this one did? I’ve been on hand for playoff games, for legitimate no-hit flirtations, for masterful shutouts, for strikeouts by the bushel, yet I’ve never been at Shea Stadium when the pitcher and the crowd were in such sync. I’ve never felt the kind of mass anticipation attached to a pitcher throwing his first pitch, his next pitch, his every pitch and his last pitch like I did for Pedro Martinez yesterday. I personally have never watched the radar readouts with as much concern nor had I ever kept my eye on the scoreboard’s PITCH COUNT line as diligently as I did yesterday. I was never simultaneously so caught up in one man’s moment of grace and rebirth yet so tangled up in anxiety and uncertainty regarding that man’s right arm. What happens in five or six days when it’s not the vapid Astros but the fearsome Phillies? What can he give us in three or four weeks if/when other games suddenly appear?
I don’t know the answers. But I do know I’d never before been part of a sustained fifth-inning curtain call for a pitcher because I’d never seen a return like the one proffered by Pedro Martinez Sunday. I’d never seen a pitcher wriggle free of two bases-loaded jams in the first four innings…and if I have, I’m sure I wasn’t nearly so confident that there would be no damage. I’d never seen a pitcher — except perhaps for this one once before (see No. 19) — figure out in front of tens of thousands of people what he wasn’t yet doing right and calculate precisely what he had to do to make it better as he went along. I’d never felt a pitcher this way. I never wanted to stand and cheer every strike, every ball, every throw he’d make, every swing he’d take.
Of course he got a long and loud curtain call for a five-inning shutout. He would have gotten it during his five-inning shutout if we were as good at applauding for him as Pedro Martinez is at pitching for us.