Sunday, September 13, 2009

Pedro Finds Fountain of Youth in Philly

Pedro Martinez is 5-0 as a member of the Philadelphia Phillies.

Pedro won 5 games in 20 starts with the Mets in 2008.

Tonight, he shone bright against his old team pitching eight shutout innings, striking seven while surrendering six hits and walking two. In all he threw 130 pitches. It was the first time he threw that many pitches in a game since May 2001 and the first time he pitched 8 innings in a game since May 2006. Joe Morgan was fretting about all those pitches especially after he gave up a two out double to Daniel Murphy. But inexplicably, Murphy attempted to steal third after a ball in the dirt momentarily got away from Phillies catcher Carlos Ruiz. Murphy was thrown out by a mile. What was that about not making the third out of an inning at third?

I have watched Pedro pitch most of his career especially during his time with the Montreal Expos and the Boston Red Sox. For many years he was the best pitcher in baseball.

I remember when he pitched a perfect game against the San Diego Padres in 1995 for the Expos. A perfect game for Pedro? Well, not quite. Despite retiring all 27 batters he faced the score was 0-0 at the end of 9 innings. Joey Hamilton pitched nine innings of shutout ball giving up only three hits. Hamilton was taken out in the 10th and the Expos scored three runs. Pedro finally gave up a hit to Bip Roberts in the bottom of the 10th and settled for a 3-0 one-hit shutout.

I remember when all seemed hopeless for the Red Sox in Game 5 of the 1999 ALDS against the Cleveland Indians. They were down 8-0 early in the game. But by the third inning the Sox had tied the game. Pedro had been injured in Game 1 with a bad back but their backs were against the wall so Pedro came into the game in relief. It was like the big kid from school had come into the game because the whole tenor of the game changed. He shut down the best offense in baseball - Albert Belle, Jim Thome, Manny Ramirez. Pedro pitched six innings of no-hit ball and the Sox came back to win the game and the ALDS, 12-8.

I also remember him throwing a complete game at Fenway Park on my 31st birthday against the Tampa Bay Devil Rays. My roommate Christopher also remembers because he was with me at that game. Pedro was pitching a shutout into the 8th inning but a pinch hit single from Al Martin broke up the shutout and the tying run was coming to the plate. Red Sox manager Grady Little appeared to be taking him out but he opted to leave him in the game. Pedro then struck out Carl Crawford and got Rocco Baldelli (who is now with the Red Sox) to fly out to right to end the inning. Pedro gave up another run in the 9th but ended up winning the game 3-2.

Exactly one month later, Pedro found himself in a similar 8th inning jam and Grady Little decided to stick with him. Only this wasn't the Tampa Bay Devil Rays. It was the New York Yankees in Game 7 of the 2003 ALCS. This time the move didn't payoff. A 5-2 victory and a berth in the World Series instead became an extra inning loss via a homerun by Aaron Boone and the end of both the season and Little's tenure as Red Sox skipper.

Of course, Pedro got his World Series ring the following year. He signed with the Mets shortly thereafter and I didn't see as much of him. After winning 15 games with the Mets in 2005, injuries caught up with Pedro. He won only 17 games between 2006 and 2008 and thus found himself out of baseball. Pitching with the Dominican Republic in the WBC didn't help matters after they were unceremoniously eliminated by the Netherlands in the first round.

The Phillies took a chance and Pedro has exceeded their wildest expectations. I certainly didn't expect to see him throw eight innings of shutout ball in September. Not bad for a 37 year old. (N.B. I will turn 37 on Wednesday.) Watching him pitch tonight was a reminder of all those great games I saw him pitch on TV and at Fenway. Phillie fans hope he can continue his renaissance down the stretch and into back to back World Series titles. It could happen.

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