This article originally ran at Old Time Family Baseball, as part of a charity blogathon to raise money for Doctors Without Borders. As Over the Monster is for Red Sox fans, I figured you would all appreciate having it live here as well.
It's not often I have total freedom to write something without any need to be topical or timely: That's just the nature of my writing gig(s). With that in mind, I was thrilled to be able to contribute something with no such restrictions, because it means I get to write about my favorite subject in baseball: Pedro Martinez.
I'm not here to talk about his Hall of Fame chances or his place in history or any of that. That's a story for another time - especially after we just escaped another winter of gnashed teeth over Cooperstown - and for the full effect you need Jonah Keri and myself to giddily describe Pedro anyway, telling tales of both his Montreal and his Boston achievements in tandem. No, the plan today is much more fun than that, for both myself and hopefully you, the reader, as there is no better way to experience Pedro than to watch him pitch.
Thanks to MLB finally opening up their vaults and placing loads of content on their official YouTube channels, we now have the ability to scratch our Pedro itch any time we need to. Their archives aren't as complete as I would like, but after imagining and remembering Pedro pitching for a while there, I don't have much room to complain. With that, let's enjoy a few of my favorite Pedro Martinez moments and games from his time in Boston.
Immaculate Inning vs. Mariners, 5/18/2002
This particular moment might not stand out if you forced someone to recall their favorite Pedro games, but it's a beauty nonetheless. Pedro, near the start of a phenomenal season that's often overshadowed by his earlier career work, manages to punch out the side in the first against the Mariners, and does so on just nine pitches to earn an immaculate inning. The third batter, Ruben Sierra, was nothing special that season - and looked appropriately foolish swinging at strike three to end the frame - but Mark McLemore was still a useful bat, and Ichiro Suzuki was, as always, difficult to strike out.
1999 ALCS Game 3, 10/16/1999
It wasn't Pedro's first great playoff game with Boston - more on that later - but there was a time when this was about the only thing Red Sox fans had to console them in the Yankees/Red Sox rivalry. In the mid-to-late 90s, the Yankees were a powerhouse dynasty that owned the American League East and whomever they met in the World Series. The Red Sox couldn't stop them in ‘99, but thanks to Pedro's seven shutout frames and 12 strikeouts, they were able to ruin Roger Clemens' pinstriped return to Fenway Park.
If you're into the Bill James' toy Game Score, this was Martinez's greatest playoff showing ever, coming in at 83.
2003 ALCS Game 3, 10/11/2003
Someday, if you get me very drunk, I will tell you a story about watching this game. For now, just enjoy the immediate hush that comes over Joe Buck and Tim McCarver when Pedro tries to avoid getting steamrolled by an old dude who should not have been charging at an opposing player.
Welcome to Fenway, NL All-Stars, 7/13/1999
The 1999 All-Star game was incredible, with the Home Run Derby showing off all the oddities of Fenway Park's design, the All-Century Team announcement that peaked when one of the greatest players to ever put on the uniform, Ted Williams, came on to the field and turned all of the modern-day players into excited children. Somehow, this might actually top all of that, as Pedro made five of the first six hitters he faced, six of the greatest hitters in the game at the time, look absolutely helpless.
Hall of Famer Barry Larkin spun in place whiffing at that incredible circle change-up. Larry Walker immediately knew he was watching an artist paint the corner, and began his walk back to the dugout immediately. Sammy Sosa, who had blasted 66 homers the year before and would finish this year with 63, took a mighty cut, but Pedro put it where Sosa's bat could not reach - this made Pedro the first ever pitcher to strike out the first three batters in an All-Star game, but he wasn't finished. Mark McGwire took a hapless cut to make it four in a row, and, after allowing a baserunner, Pedro ended the inning with a strike-em-out, throw-em-out that began on a wicked change that landed at Jeff Bagwell's ankles.
I could watch this again and again, but there are other strikeouts to watch.
Pedro's Greatest Start in his Greatest Season, 9/10/1999
This, shockingly, is not on MLB's YouTube page, but their actual website mercifully has it. This is Pedro Martinez striking out 17 Yankees in a September start at Yankee Stadium. He allowed one hit and one run in the outing - a solo homer to Chili Davis - but otherwise was completely untouchable. Pedro was so unbelievably filthy, and so ridiculously entertaining, that Yankee Stadium was eventually cheering for his strikeouts, even though they came at the expense of the team they paid to see. If not for one little appearance that we'll get to momentarily, this would easily be the greatest game that Pedro Martinez ever pitched.
Pedro beats the Indians in relief, 10/11/1999
Pedro Martinez pitched Game 1 of the 1999 ALDS against the Indians, but left after just four innings with an injury. Boston would drop the next game as well, putting them down 2-0 in this best-of-five. They would storm back with a 9-3 victory that was followed up by a 23-7 thrashing on the Boston leg of the series, though, bringing both clubs back to Cleveland for a decisive Game 5. Pedro could not start the game due to his back, leaving Bret Saberhagen, owner of a mostly torn rotator cuff, to face off against Charles Nagy.
Saberhagen gave up five runs in an inning, and Derek Lowe fared no better in relief, allowing three of his own. With the game tied 8-8 after three frames, Pedro Martinez would enter the game in relief, and that was that. You could see it on the faces of the fans in the stands, on the faces of the Indians in the dugout: Pedro was in, and that meant trouble for Cleveland's chances to win this game, lead or no.
Pedro didn't have his typical velocity, but he still had the command that made the rest of the Pedro experience so devastating for opponents. He would walk three batters, but they were the only ones to reach base in his six innings of work, with Pedro striking out eight in the process. Powered by seven runs batted in by Troy O'Leary - who hit a grand slam and then a three-run homer following intentional walks to Nomar Garciaparra - and the relief work of Pedro, Boston would win the series.
The 1999 ALDS has been overshadowed over time by the 2004 ALCS, in which the Red Sox famously became the first team to win a series after being down three games to none, but this is special in its own way, even if the end to the season's story wasn't quite as storybook. This was Pedro's own Bloody Sock moment in a way, where he clearly wasn't healthy, and wasn't at his best, but was still just far too much for anyone. It served as a teaser for what he would eventually become on the mound, too, when injuries limited him and his velocity, but his pure stuff, smarts, and command allowed him to evolve and remain one of the best pitchers in the game.
If you want to experience the game as a whole, it's embedded above for you: there are no commercials, so it's a brisk 2.5 hour journey through the Pedro game that sticks out to this fan like no other.