No Surprise -- Pedro

I admit to being a little surprised when the Sox were able to pull off the Pedro Martinez trade back a couple decades. There's not a great deal more that can be said about him that isn't already etched in the record books as far as Pedro is concerned. But I would want to add that the Sox made two outstanding personnel moves where Pedro is concerned -- trading for him in the first place (and as it ended up, doing so for an extraordinarily low price in terms of subsequent value), and then letting him walk in 2005 when we all knew in our hearts that there wasn't enough Pedro left in there to justify paying him what he wanted.

If we might, though, let us go back to April 17, 1998. This was his fourth start as a Red Sox, the first two having been on the road. Pedro had shut out the Mariners in his first home start, and now he was up against the Indians, with Manny Ramirez, David Justice, Kenny Lofton, Jim Thome -- you get the idea.

I was on business up in Boston from Virginia, and got a ticket to the game. The fact that Pedro was pitching was doubtlessly incidental; my business trips back then were usually only a day or two. I just wanted to go see a game again. I don't recall the Seattle game, but it was a 5-0 shutout with 12 strikeouts a week earlier; a good way to start one's career with a fan base. This one, however, was not the same sort of thing. He struck out 12 in nine innings again, but trailed 2-0 as he walked off the mound after pitching the top of the ninth.

I'll never forget that. David Justice had just flied out to end the top half, and it was Pedro's 111th pitch -- he was done. He walked off the mound with his head down, as no doubt he had done on many comparable occasions in Montreal, although before maybe 5,000 people in the stands there usually. I'm sure he thought he had not done his job this night, leaving without the lead, and expecting polite, Expo-like applause.

In this case, though, his first departure from a Fenway mound appearance without a lead, he got a different response. As he walked toward the dugout, the 27,000 or so started and kept on screaming, waving Dominican flags, chanting his name and yelling in at least two languages -- myself included. Pedro got within 30 feet of the dugout, realized this was not Stade Olympique, that the fans at Fenway actually really, really cared, and looked around (right toward where I was sitting, although coincidentally).

I could read in his face that this was not what he had expected, since his frown of disappointment transformed visibly into a smile of appreciation and, I felt then, a first recognition of what he meant to the community, that it was the turning point in his relationship with the fans. I think I recall him raising his cap to us all then, with new recognition for who he was seen as. It was a real "moment" for all of us.

Of course, the Sox scored a couple in the bottom of the ninth to tie it, and won in the tenth on a bases-loaded single by good old Darren Bragg. I don't have access to Globe or Herald archives of the next day to see how my memories jibed with their contemporaneous account, but I really don't care. For 21 years, I've thought that game to be a watershed moment in the Sox career of Mr. Martinez, and I think I'll keep it that way.