Seeds of Pedro Martinez’s greatness sown with Expos
When Pedro Martinez is inducted into the Hall of Fame Sunday his plaque will show him wearing a Red Sox cap and that is how it should be. Martinez experienced his greatest successes while he played in Boston.
But a big piece of his heart will always remain with the Montreal Expos.
Martinez was a 22-year-old relief pitcher with the Dodgers when he was traded to the Expos for second baseman Delino DeShields. The Expos could no longer afford DeShields, who was due for a significant raise, and the Dodgers had dismissed Martinez as being too frail to make it as a starter.
“Pedro was my favorite player then and he still is,” said Dan Duquette, then the general manager of the Expos and now of the Baltimore Orioles. “I thought it was a good trade for us. We saw him as a starter. Our scouts really liked him.”
In Montreal, Martinez blossomed, going 55-33 over four seasons with a 3.06 earned run average. In 1997, after gaining command of his curveball, he was 17-8 with a 1.90 ERA and won his first Cy Young Award.
Montreal’s small but fervent baseball community embraced Martinez.
“It was the most peaceful place I ever played in, the most relaxing,” Martinez said. “The people were so nice to me. I loved going to the ballpark there and being in that city even though I was always cold.”
Martinez also found two of his most trusted mentors in Montreal in manager Felipe Alou and coach Tommy Harper.
Alou, an accomplished player from Martinez’s Dominican Republic, was 59 at that point and three seasons into a managerial career that would stretch 14 years. He dubbed Martinez “The Little Man” and was his protector.
“Felipe would tell me, ‘Young man, you’re going to make a lot of money in this game. Don’t worry about struggling. Just keep playing.’ He was such a good influence on me,” Martinez said.
“Tommy was the same way, he always had my back. He was somebody special in my life during those years. He’s somebody I always thank for his guidance.”
Martinez was twice involved in bench-clearing brawls during his tenure with Montreal, once when he was working on a perfect game in the eighth inning in just his second start with the team.
It was with the Expos that Martinez gained a reputation for claiming his portion of the strike zone by brushing back — or outright hitting — any batter who invaded his territory.
When Martinez was tabbed a villain and became frustrated with himself, it was Harper who could smooth things over.
“Pedro was young,” Harper said last year. “You could see the talent he had. The coaching staff knew we had somebody special. I could talk to him and calm him down.”
Martinez pitched one of the most memorable games of his career on June 3, 1995, at San Diego, retiring the first 27 batters he faced. Yet the Expos also could not score and the game went into extra innings.
Finally given a 1-0 lead, Martinez was taken out of the game by Alou after allowing a double in the 10th inning. The Expos won the game but Martinez was denied his perfect game.
The Expos never made the playoffs during Martinez’s four seasons. The 1994 team had the best record in baseball at 74-40 when the season ended on Aug. 11 because of a players’ strike.
Martinez eventually became too expensive for the Expos and had to be traded. He went to the Red Sox on Nov. 18, 1997, for pitching prospects Carl Pavano and Tony Armas Jr. Duquette also made that deal, this time as the GM of the Red Sox.
When Martinez sees Duquette, they sometimes talk over old times in Canada.
“Duquette was the smartest GM I ever played for,” Martinez said. “It’s a rarity when a GM trades for the same player twice. He gave me two great opportunities.”
The Expos left Montreal after the 2004 season, becoming the Washington Nationals.
“You know what? I root for the Nationals,” Martinez said. “I know the Red Sox are my team and I’m back with them now and I love that organization. But I regret that Montreal doesn’t have a team anymore.
“I know the bones of the Expos are there. I remember what that team meant to me. Those were great years for me.”