Wednesday, December 03, 2014

1999 - The Magnificent Martinez's greatest trick

There has been quite a bit of chatter about The Magnificent Martinez lately. We're not talking about some two-bit magician here, we're talking about the wizard of the mound, Pedro Martinez. 

Recently the whole 'pitcher winning and MVP' thing came up, and after that came the announcement that Pedro is on the next Hall Of Fame ballot.

In regards the MVP portion, a belated congratulations to Clayton Kershaw, who won not only the 2014 NL Cy Young award, but also the NL MVP award. This is a tremendous feat for a pitcher to accomplish. Kershaw achieving this cast my mind back to the summer of ’99, and Pedro Martinez. For many who saw him throw, live at a game in particular, Pedro is the greatest pitcher ever to set foot on planet Earth, and ’99 was his greatest year. Some point to other seasons of his as having been pretty damn good (take your pick really from the phenomenal stretch he showcased between ’97 in Montreal and the infamous ’03) however for many, including me, ’99 was pure magic, on a number of levels.



Martinez deals

First of all, Pedro was still relatively new to Boston, having come from Montreal just 2 years earlier. Second, the numbers. Good lord, what numbers. Third, Pedro’s incredible, almost hard-to-believe All Star game outing, and everything around it (For God sake, it was in Boston, how perfect!). Then there was that magical night in New York where Pedro gunned down 17 Yankees.

The fifth piece of evidence towards proving ’99 was the greatest season ever submitted by a Major League pitcher is the 5 innings of shut-out relief Pedro tossed in the playoffs in Cleveland, a night embedded deep in the mind of every Red Sox fan who saw it.

Then there was his brilliant outing against the Yankees in the ALCS.

Finally, there is the context of the period Pedro did all of this in. Let’s just say it was not a level playing field. Other pitchers were being slapped around by enormous, hulking, roiding batters who were able to meddle in the dark arts of steroids while bashing obscene numbers of home runs. Pedro? He conquered all before him.

Sure, Pedro had other seasons that were perhaps better statistically on some levels, and sure, other pitchers have submitted similarly brilliant seasons in terms of numbers, however I put it to you that contextually, when you consider everything, no pitcher has ever delivered anything like the gift Pedro gave us in the summer of ’99.

To start, some of you will remember the breathless Boston Globe reports in the winter of ’97 that Pedro was coming to town. I remember distinctly where I was sitting when I first read the news, I can picture the article in front of me now. If I recall correctly the picture of Pedro was in street clothes, with a flat cap on, looking confident and stylish (Update: The Internet is an astonishing place – I just found the article).


Pedro comes to town.

He had just put forth an astonishing season in Montreal and the hope was that he would be the Ace at the front end of the Red Sox rotation. Goodness me did he deliver on that. Pedro announced himself to Boston with a stunning debut season that really raised the bar for expectations and indeed the hopes of Red Sox fans. That’s one of the many elements that makes ’99 so special. We knew Pedro was good, we saw just how good in Montreal, and we had a taste of the real potential of the great man in ’98. When Pedro was able to kick on upwards into yet another gear in ’99, well, it was simply jaw dropping.

On to the numbers.

As you can see from the below, the numbers that Pedro Martinez put up from ’97 through ’03 were nothing short of sensational. You could pluck out a couple of seasons as examples of ones that might surpass even 45’s transcendent ’99, however when you add all the other contextual aspects we’re discussing here, there really is only one season in my mind that constitutes Pedro’s greatest.

Pedro's greatest streak of stats - click to view in large


His ’99 was simply a thing of beauty.

Pedro won 24 games while losing only 4. In 213 innings he walked only 37 batters while striking out an incredible 313. Pedro struck batters out that season at an otherworldly rate of 37.5 %, whilst walking 4.4 %. That’s just unheard of. To put this in context, the other, human pitchers that season had rates of 15.6 % and 8.8 %. Pedro was in a class all of his own. His ’99 ERA of 2.07 was below half of the MLB average.

During ’99 he went on several streaks that, statistically, have few or no peer.

In September Pedro went 8 straight games with double-digits in strike outs. He was just abusing batters and sending them back to the dugout confused and demoralized. In 8 starts from August to September 27th Pedro tossed 62 innings allowing 8 runs which meant an absolutely ridiculous ERA of 1.16. In that period he K’d 107 batters at a rate of 46.5 %.

Looking at the numbers for that period of time, you could say that Pedro’s work between August through September in 1999 might be the greatest single stretch of pitching ever in Major League Baseball.

An integral aspect of Pedro’s ’99 season, and a portion of the reason why I contend it was his greatest, and indeed the greatest, was the ’99 All Star game at Fenway Park. The game itself, the surrounding pageantry, the home-run derby, the location, the stars, they all added up to an incredible All Star weekend in Boston. What Pedro did to the National League All Stars he faced, however, should probably have been adults-only entertainment. His stuff was absolutely filthy on the night. Anyone who watched that game saw that Pedro was psyched beyond belief to be starting for the American League. He left literally everything out there.



The sparkling energy and passion with which Pedro threw that night is clearly visible and audible from that clip. The POP of the fastball exploding into the catcher’s glove, the radar gun numbers, the stoic, controlled but fiercely competitive look on Pedro’s face. Remember this was the All Star game. These were baseball’s best-of-the-best and Pedro struck them out like they were Little League scrubs.

That pitch to get Larkin, what the hell? Sure, I know it would be labelled a changeup, but in reality it was so much more. The pitch dove away as if the ball was literally taunting the over-matched veteran Larkin. Not a chance, buddy. The pop of Martinez’s fast-ball to Larry Walker as it hit the glove makes me want to pump my fist every time I heart it.

It was an explosive 2 innings on the back of a glittering All Star event.

Then there was that night in New York.

I happened to be at that game, I was working in Boston for the summer, and wanted to see Pedro pitch live one more time before travelling back to Ireland. I wrote this a couple of years later, and like every pitch that night, every word of this still rings true.

With the Yankees winning the Sox were in trouble. And that's where Pedro broke out perhaps the best game of his career. In the middle of the team's longest road trip against their strongest competitors, he faced down the Yankees and threw a complete game one-hitter, facing only one batter over the minimum. Pedro struck out the side in the 5th, 7th, and 9th innings, for a total of 17 in the game. He fanned every Yankee who came to bat at least once.

Pedro was such a ferocious competitor, he was like a boxer, who was angered by his opponent (Chili Davies) landing a punch, and who went on to absolutely annihilate him. With Pedro dealing his 97 mph fastball, his wicked curve and that delicious changeup, the powerful all-world Yankees lineup was reduced to one fair ball after the fourth inning. Have a think about that. They hit one ball into play from the fourth inning on.

Every time he fired in one of his pitches I felt my emotions get pushed higher and higher. The Dominican fans in the bleachers were going absolutely insane. My new buddy beside me was pretty quiet, completely focused on the game, but after every strike out he just mumbled, 'K, another K'.

The Sox offence struck for two in the sixth and one in the ninth, and that was all Pedro needed. He finished his magnificent performance by striking out the side in the 9th inning, and the Dominican fans in the bleachers went absolutely insane. I didn't even notice that my body guard was gone, so, faced with overwhelming odds I settled for a little personal fist pump almost hidden by the seat in front of me.

I practically floated out of Yankee stadium, everything from there is just a blur. The bright stadium lights, several Red Sox fans celebrating in front of the stadium.

Like Ron Bergundy, ''I wanna say something. I'm gonna put it out there. If you like it, you can take it, if you don't, send it right back.'' I want to come right out and say that was the single greatest pitching performance I have ever seen. Pedro, that night, was the greatest.

As I left the stadium I heard Frank singing '...start spreading the news..' over the PA system. I couldn't get that song out of my head for days, and when I hear it now I remember nothing but that chilly night in New York watching Pedro carry the Red Sox on his back deep in the heart of Yankee land.
Here are the highlights.




After the regular season, on to Cleveland, where the Red Sox faced the super-powerful Indians team that had a lineup for the ages. Pedro didn’t start, but he hovered over the city of Cleveland like a dark storm cloud waiting to pounce. The Indians bashed 8 runs off some, it must be said, pretty poor Red Sox pitching, before Pedro put his cleats on and jogged from the ‘pen to the mound. What followed was simply epic. Pedro pitched 6 shutout innings of baseball, as Boston rode his back out of town and into the next round. Pedro stripped the Indians batters and indeed fans of all hope, disarming them quietly and efficiently. He had the focus of an ice-cold assassin all night long, and mowed the Cleveland batters down one-by-one without seemingly breaking sweat.

Focus


God bless the Internet, you can watch the entire game here (and boy is it a wonderful trip down memory lane for fans of the Red Sox but also for fans of great pitching. Not so much for Indians fans, however).



The razor sharp focus that Martinez displayed when cutting down the Indians final hope, Omar Vizquel, that’s something you just can’t teach. In that time, in that place, only a legend could perform like that.

On to New York.

Putting an emphatic exclamation mark on his brilliant season, Pedro carried his excellence on into the ALCS against the New York Yankees. In his one start against them (his heroics against Cleveland came at a cost, the Red Sox in hindsight needed Pedro more than just once against the Yankees) he blew past them almost as if they weren’t there.

Grab a beer, get yourself some pretzels and put your feet up. Here’s the entire game



Side note: One of the greatest Red Sox fans chants of all time;

''Where is Roger? Clap, clap, clap, clap, clap. In the shower! Clap, clap, clap, clap, clap''

You really have to take a deep breath after considering all of that information. Remind yourself, all of that, all of the above, Pedro did all of that in one single season. That’s a lifetime of achievements for most pitchers, even the best. Pedro managed to cram it into one single magical season.

You will notice I haven’t commented on the two individuals who left Pedro completely off their MVP ballots in a spiteful move that thankfully we haven’t seen repeated too often since. One of those idiots had the bare-faced cheek to put two pitchers on his ’00 ballot despite claiming he left Pedro off in ’99 because he didn’t think pitchers should be allowed into the MVP voting (who knows how that clown sleeps at night). I won’t spoil this piece with his name, because quite frankly his ugly little temper tantrum doesn’t take away from a half of fraction of a percent of what The Great Martinez achieved in ’99.

You can bet Pedro doesn’t care either. He’s obviously a very grounded, confident man, and clearly very happy with his lot in life now. He has done things that no other player will manage, and he can sit back and enjoy the memories now that his playing career is over.

He gave us a season for the ages in 1999 and no one can ever take that from him.



2 comments:

The Omnipotent Q said...

I was at Fenway for the playoff game in 1999, Cormac. One of my most cherished memories at any live baseball game. It couldn't have gone better. Pedro was magnificent, and Clemens was in "the shower" by the third.

September 10, 1999 was simply best game I have ever seen (albeit on TV). The most incredible stat of them all is that the last Yankee hit a fair ball in the 5th inning! Pedro retired the last 14 straight: 12 on strikeouts, and two on foul outs. And this was the defending champions, who would go on to repeat a month later.

Cormac said...

Thanks for that John, '99 was a season for the ages for us Sox fans!

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Team Ireland at the European Championships, Croatia, 2000.

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