PEDRO CITY, USA -- The National Leaguers remember Pedro Martinez, but they haven’t seen him since he got into local politics. They haven’t seen him since he switched uniforms, got himself elected the Chief Operating Officer of a storied patch of real estate in the Fenway section of Boston, and decided that he might as well become the best pitcher in baseball.
They haven’t seen him since he went from an exalted pitching level and a Cy Young Award in their league two years ago to the new, almost unimaginable plateau from which he operates nowadays. So it was at Pedro’s press gathering last night that an old friend and former teammate had a kibitzing query for the mayor of Pedro City.
``Pedro,’’ inquired Larry Walker, ``were you throwing 400 miles an hour out there?’’
Fair question, that. For what Walker had done as a strikeout victim in the top of the first inning of the 70th All-Star Game was help make history. He was strikeout victim No. 2 in an All-Star record-breaking streak of four Ks to open a game. Walker was strikeout victim No. 2 of what would turn out to be an American League record-tying total of five, a figure that might very easily have tied the overall individual record of six had Matt Williams, who had reached on an error, not been gunned down by the legendary arm of Ivan ``Pudge’’ Rodriguez at the tail end of a strike-’em-out, throw-’em-out double play to end the second inning.
Let the record show that Williams was the only National League base runner allowed by the 1999 All-Star Game Most Valuable player in his two innings of work, and that the only reason he was fortunate enough to find himself at first base was that for some inexplicable reason Gold Glove second baseman Roberto Alomar made a complete pick-up-and-throwing mess of the Diamondback’s 77-hopper to second with one away in the second.
The first six batters in a fairly awesome National League lineup strongly resembled the first six batters in any ordinary 1999 Pedro Martinez game. That is to say, they were helpless against the scary repertoire of pitches at the command of the mayor of Pedro City.
``What did I strike out on?’’ repeated Walker at one point. ``I don’t know. Fastballs, I guess. I didn’t see many pitches. It didn’t take long to get me out of there.’’
Do keep in mind that this man entered the game batting .382 with 25 homers and 77 runs batted in.
``He could have told you what was coming, and it wouldn’t have made any difference,’’ insisted Walker. ``He threw very hard and very well.’’
Yeah, so? Tell us something we constituents of the mayor didn’t already know. We know he throws hard and he throws well. He also throws baseballs that move in very strange ways, and that sometimes appear to be one thing leaving his hand and are quite another as they sashay their way up to the plate.
Wasn’t this the mayor’s fantasy? Angered by what he felt was a starting snub last year, he was going to make his first All-Star start in his home ballpark, and when we say his home ballpark we mean his home ballpark. Not since Luis Tiant has a pitcher commanded such unconditional devotion around here, and that includes Roger Clemens, who received a very mixed reaction from the Fenway crowd when introduced as one of the top 100 players of the century in a dramatic pregame ceremony. At this point, it’s safe to say that around here, as far as the Rocket is concerned, it’s pretty much a case of Roger Who? The mayor of Pedro City is all these people need.
The man himself appeared a bit dazed by it all. Normally a man with superb recall, he was something less than his perceptive self when asked to analyze his dazzling performance.
``I really don’t have much to say,’’ said the mayor. ``Three pitches. Fastball, changeup, curve. I’m not sure how I used them.’’
The first batter was the toughest. Barry Larkin battled, fouling off three straight pitches after going 2 and 2. But the mayor wound up winning that confrontation. Now he was ready to unload. Walker was just about a no-hoper. That brought up Sammy Sosa, a prime K candidate in any circumstance. ``I threw Sammy a couple of breaking balls,’’ said the mayor, his memory now kicking in, ``and I noticed he didn’t react well to the breaking ball.’’ Set up nicely, Sosa fanned on a fastball.
It was the first time in All-Star Game history that someone had begun a game by striking out the side. That strikeout total would stretch to four when Pedro started the second inning by whiffing Mark McGwire. Williams broke the spell with his dribbler to second; Alomar bobbled it and then threw too late for a juicy E-4.
All that did was give Rodriguez a chance to show off. Williams took off on a swinging third-strike pitch to Jeff Bagwell (making his first official plate appearance in Fenway since homering in a college All-Star game many years ago), and Rodriguez gunned out the Arizona third baseman to complete the double play. As if anyone should be surprised.
It hasn’t exactly been the All-Star experience the mayor was expecting. It has, in fact, been better, and that’s because he’s still learning what Boston is all about.
``It’s been great,’’ he gushed. ``Out of all the All-Star Games I’ve been in, this is probably the most exciting one I’ve been to. I didn’t know that Boston was going to be so much on top of the All-Star Game. I’ve been to a few of them, but what happened with Boston? What’s here? Do the people eat baseball and drink baseball? It’s unbelievable. I don’t really have the words to explain how good it feels just to be part of it.’’
Nor do most people have the words to describe his 1999 pitching. ``That’s him,’’ said Nomar Garciaparra. ``That’s Pedro. He loves pitching in front of this crowd.’’
Not crowd, Nomar. Subjects. When this man takes the mound, it is no longer Fenway Park. All-Star Game or no All-Star Game, the name of the place is Pedro City.