Pedro Martinez dominated hitters, enraptured fans

Pedro Martinez was cheered by fans as he walked back to the dugout after striking out the side against the Tampa Bay Devil Rays at Fenway Park on April 8, 2001. Martinez pitched eight innings, striking out 16 and giving up only three hits a 3-0 win.
Winslow Townson/AP file
Pedro Martinez was cheered by fans as he walked back to the dugout after striking out the side against the Tampa Bay Devil Rays at Fenway Park on April 8, 2001. Martinez pitched eight innings, striking out 16 and giving up only three hits a 3-0 win.

Pedro Martinez’s fearlessness was contagious. Whether you were David Ortiz or Manny Ramirez, Johnny Damon or Jason Varitek, Bronson Arroyo or Kevin Millar, it rubbed off.

Millar remembers the summer of 2003, when the Red Sox were in New York for a four-game rumble with the Yankees. Roger Clemens was on the mound for New York when Millar made his first trip to the plate.

On the second pitch, Clemens pumped a 95-mile-per-hour fastball into Millar’s left hand. It started a war of words that didn’t end until Martinez took the mound two days later.


First, Clemens blamed Millar.

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“Some guys don’t know how to get out of the way anymore,’’ Clemens said.

Millar, for his part, tried not to stoke the situation.

“There’s no bad blood between Roger Clemens and me,’’ he said. “But he threw a pitch that almost broke my face.’’

In between it all, Millar said, Martinez pulled him to the side.


Millar wasn’t a superstar, but to Martinez, it was irrelevant. Clemens tried to bully one of his teammates. So the next day, Martinez didn’t waste a pitch returning the favor.

“He thought that it was on purpose, and he says, ‘Who do you want me to take out?’ ’’ Millar recalled. “I said, ‘Man, I don’t know. It’s just one of those things.’ ’’

Martinez picked for him.

He hardly wasted a pitch before he dotted Alfonso Soriano and Derek Jeter in the hand, sending them both to the hospital.

The 2-1 loss didn’t seem to matter that much. The message Martinez sent was more important.


“He said after the game, basically, ‘You tell Clemens, you hit one of my guys, I’m going to take two of his,’ ’’ said Millar. “To me, that was something that was like, ‘Wow.’ I wasn’t a superstar, and he took it upon himself to protect me personally and the Red Sox, and I think he set a tone there.

“That was one moment I said, ‘Wow, this guy, he’s a friend for life.’ ’’

When Yankees owner George Steinbrenner fumed about it the next few days, Martinez was defiant.

“Georgie-porgie, he may buy the whole league, but he doesn’t have the money to put fear in my heart,’’ said Martinez.

It was an attitude the Red Sox adopted that season, and the next year, too, when they brought Boston its first World Series title in 86 years.

For those kinds of accomplishments, Martinez will be honored Wednesday by the Sports Museum at its annual event, The Tradition, at TD Garden.

But the staggering numbers - three Cy Young Awards, the pitching “Triple Crown’’ in 1999, eight All-Star Games (MVP in 1999), 219 wins, 3,154 strikeouts - don’t capture what his attitude and persona did for the Red Sox organization the seven years he spent in Boston.

“In order for you to pull off something so great from a team so good, I think you have to be really, really unified as a team,’’ said Martinez. “The character that team had under any situation - under a fight, under stress, whatever - you could put that team under anything and we could pull it off.’’

Always an event

To the naked eye, Martinez was unassuming at 5 feet 11 inches, 170 pounds - but on the mound, he was terrifying. His fastball topped out at 98 miles per hour, and on any count he could reach into his utility belt for his circle change, his curveball, or his cutter.

He didn’t challenge hitters, he dared them, once striking out the side with just nine pitches.

He was small, but he was frighteningly dominant.

“When he got on the mound - I don’t know what he was listed at, 5-11 or whatever - but he stood about 6-6,’’ said former Red Sox manager Terry Francona. “You couple that with what he used to throw, and he was electric.’’

Whenever he took the mound, it was an event.

Take his Fenway debut in 1998, when 32,403 fans jammed into the park to watch him strike out 12 Mariners in a complete-game shutout.

At the All-Star Game the next year at Fenway, he was in the middle of one of the most dominant seasons by any pitcher: 23-4, 2.07 ERA, 313 strikeouts against an absurd 37 walks in 213 1/3 innings. And if there was a night to shine, this was it.

“That’s probably when I really spoiled my fans in Boston,’’ said Martinez, “and rightly so, they deserved it, every little bit of it. I have never seen such loyal fans anywhere else. I truly enjoyed the way the Boston fans appreciate their team.’’

He started the game with four straight strikeouts - Barry Larkin, Larry Walker, and Sammy Sosa in the first, then Mark McGwire to start the second - a feat never before seen in an All-Star Game.

“That was one of the All-Star Games where I felt more relaxed than anything, because I was at home,’’ he said. “I knew that regardless of what I did I was going to be spoiled.

“Looking at Nomar [Garciaparra] and the guys that were with us, that was one of the places where I felt right at home and all I had to do was get out there and whatever I did was going to be appreciated by my fans.’’

In all, Martinez struck out five of the six batters he faced in his two innings, and was named MVP after the American League’s 4-1 win.

Finally, a championship

That was the same year general manager Dan Duquette said Martinez would put his career on the line and pitch in Game 5 of the American League Division Series against the Cleveland Indians, five days after leaving Game 1 with back pain.

He took the ball from Derek Lowe in the fourth inning, and pitched six hitless innings, one of baseball’s gutsiest outings, pushing the Sox to the AL Championship series against the Yankees.

When the Sox and Martinez finally reached the World Series, against the St. Louis Cardinals in 2004, he wasn’t the otherworldly force he had been known to be.

“He was fighting to kind of be that guy,’’ Francona said. “His stuff was coming and going.’’

But he won 16 games, struck out 227 batters, and was a centerpiece on easily the most unique team in franchise history.

“There were a lot of loose personalities and outgoing guys, but when it was time to play the game, they were ready to go,’’ Francona said. “Whether it was long hair or jheri curls, they were ready to play the game.’’

He threw seven shutout innings in Game 3, and when the Series ended a game later, Millar caught a glimpse of Martinez with the trophy.

“You play for each other, you play for the city, you play for all those things, obviously, but when Pedro Martinez won that ring, it was pretty special,’’ said Millar. “He was such a huge part of it.

“He had been there since ’98, he’d been through some tough losses. He went through some tough seasons there in Boston. I remember him sitting in the back of that plane holding that trophy, and it was just a cool moment. I looked back like, ‘You’re the king now.’ It was kind of like, ‘Finally.’ ’’

On to the Mets

That was his last season in a Red Sox uniform. Martinez signed a four-year, $53 million contract with the Mets in the offseason, a deal the Red Sox refused to give him.

“There are decisions that management has to make with contracts,’’ Francona said. “They make those decisions all the time and it’s difficult. The fans get tied into these guys and so do the coaches and players, and that’s the part that leaves a sour taste in your mouth.’’

It did for Martinez as well.

“To be honest, that’s probably the only sour drink that I had when I was in Boston, was to see myself leave,’’ he said.

He hasn’t pitched since 2009, when he made a comeback bid with the Phillies. Now, he splits time between homes in Miami and the Dominican Republic, working in the community with his Pedro Martinez and Brothers Foundation.

He has plans to sell his apartment in New York, where he ultimately played four seasons. He is flirting with the idea of buying one in Boston.

“I enjoyed every single bit of Boston, in every aspect,’’ he said. “For some reason, I remember everything I used to do and I want to do it again.’’

Julian Benbow can be reached at