Book excerpt: Pedro Martinez talks 2003 season, rivalry with Yankees
This story appears in the May 4, 2015, issue of Sports Illustrated. Subscribe to the magazine here.
Excerpt from "PEDRO" by Pedro Martinez and Michael Silverman to be published on May 5, 2015 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. Copyright © 2015 by Pedro Martinez. Reprinted by permission of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved. Pre-order your copy on Amazon.
When Glenn (Goose) Gregson saw quit in my eyes, he was shocked. The last thing he and 32,029 increasingly restless fans expected to see, in the Red Sox’ 2003 home opener, was me getting my hat handed to me. The Orioles were in the middle of a seven-run barrage for which I had absolutely no answer. I had given up three runs in the first inning, but I had gone three scoreless innings after that. I thought I had my act back together, but then came the fifth. The Orioles scored two quick runs, and Ganso (as I called him, using the Spanish for goose), the Red Sox’ interim pitching coach, stepped out of the dugout and approached me, frowning.
“You’ve got two choices, Pedro,” he yelled. “You can quit right now or fight back.” I looked down and nodded, kicking the dirt. Words were worthless at that moment. Ganso and everyone else at Fenway Park waited for me to show some fight.
They saw me give up a bases-loaded walk and a two-run single.
Ganso came back out. My day was done. I heard one fan shout, “Hey, is this what we’re getting for $17.5 million?” reminding me that five days earlier the Red Sox had picked up my 2004 option for that sum. As I reached the top of the dugout, I stopped and gave that fan the stare I usually reserved for a batter who took too good a swing at my changeup.
I never pitched a worse game than I did that day. Ten runs, nine hits and four walks in 4 1/3 innings. That’s hard to top, and thank God I never did. But everything that happened in the fifth inning—the quit in my eyes, the rude reminder of my salary—summed up a season in which I was generally cranky and often petulant and sullen, too. From spring training on, I was consumed with my personal plight.
When I arrived in camp, I was signed through 2003, and the Red Sox had until November to pick up my option for ’04. But I didn’t want to wait that long. Actually, I wanted more than the 2004 option. I wanted another three years on my contract.
I had a lot of meetings that spring with team executives. After my agent, Fernando Cuza, presented our extension idea, Red Sox general manager Theo Epstein said he thought my arm angle had dropped, and the team was concerned about my durability. President and CEO Larry Lucchino talked about different extension concepts that protected the Red Sox in case I broke down.
On April 7 the team announced that it was picking up my option. I would be back atop the money heap for pitchers, with the largest single-season salary. The team said that after the season we would resume talks with the “mutual goal” of my returning to the Red Sox. I issued a statement too: “I am thankful and glad that they picked up the option. I’m also thankful that we both left the door open for negotiations in November.... Now I want to focus on baseball.”
That was easier said than done. I was unhappy about not getting the extension, and I didn’t appreciate the way the media made it sound as if I was a whiny kid who got his way with overindulgent parents but couldn’t stop sulking. After that home opener I informed the media that we were no longer on speaking terms.
One wise guy asked who would be the reporters’ liaison with Manny Ramirez, a role I had played since he entered his own cone of silence the previous year. I said, “Find your own way to talk to Manny.”
Manny confounded everyone on the club. That was a big part of his appeal. Everything seemed out of place unless Manny was in la-la land, keeping us guessing what he would do next. How would he wear his hair? Why did he spray me with half a bottle of his cologne? Why did he ask me, “Hey, did you know there are men on their way to the moon right now?”
Once, he came up to my locker and put on my socks and my underwear and then went over to David Ortiz’s locker and put on his undershirt. “Why are you doing that, Manny?” I asked.
“I don’t know. Do you?”
“No, I really don’t.”
“Did you know I’ve got three little midgets working on me all the time in my head? Today they needed different clothes to wear.”
Manny was just a kid, one I wanted to take care of. On the road he sometimes was afraid to go to sleep by himself. He’d come up to my room, where Ortiz and some teammates and I would be hanging out. After a while we’d look over and there would be Manny, under my covers, fully dressed, snoring. I always had a suite with an extra bed, so I didn’t mind if he had a sleepover. That was just Manny being Manny.
I had to go on the disabled list in the middle of May with a lat issue. I was 4–2 with a 2.83 ERA and .205 batting average against. Those weren’t close to my 1999 and 2000 numbers, but it was still early. While I was resting, I had a blowup with the media when Sammy Sosa was caught with a corked bat. Sammy and I had never been that close, but I jumped to his defense for a couple of reasons: A good portion of the media ran Sammy’s comments in his poor English, so that he sounded illiterate. Then there was the ferocity of the media’s attacks on Sammy. They made him sound like a criminal. This sent me over the top. I knew racism when I saw it.
I got on a chair in the middle of the clubhouse in Pittsburgh and got pretty graphic, bending over, letting the national media know that they were going to have to bend over and take it from us Dominicans, because we were going to continue to grow and dominate baseball. “We may be Latin, a minority,” I said, “but we are not dumb.” I wanted there to be a campaign to reverse the smear job on Sammy, since X-rays of his other bats turned up no more cork. “They should have had someone to translate and have Sammy talk from his heart,” I said.
It looks like I was wrong about Sammy not being a cheater, since his name has been added to those of accused steroids users, but I had a stronger case about the Spanish-English translation issue. Latino ballplayers have always resented the fact that teams hire translators for Japanese ballplayers but not for Spanish-speaking players, who are left on their own.
On June 11, I came off the disabled list. Early in July came another of those Yankees series in which the fate of the world seemed to rest upon the outcome. I was down to pitch the finale. Two days before my start, Roger Clemens drilled Kevin Millar. I didn’t care whether it was intentional or not. Clemens hit one of my players, so I filed it at the top of my to-do list.
The first batter of the first inning was Alfonso Soriano. I nicked him, but I swear, that one was just up and in. Soriano leaned in and swung right into that ball. The umpire said it was a strikeout.
Derek Jeter was up next, and I sailed one in on his hands and got him good. Both he and Soriano had to leave the game early to have X‑rays taken. I told some teammates, “At least I gave them a discount on an ambulance—they both got to go in the same one.” That comment surprised [fellow pitcher] Derek Lowe. He told me he figured that when I hit batters, it was an accident 90% of the time. He was 100% wrong. When I hit a batter, it was 90% intentional.
Yankees owner George Steinbrenner suggested that Major League Baseball launch an investigation into my evil ways. I told reporters, “Georgie Porgie, he might buy the whole league, but he doesn’t have enough money to buy fear to put in my heart.”
I pitched well over my last 20 starts: 10–2, 1.92 ERA, 144 strikeouts and a .219 average against. In September I went 4–0 with an 0.82 ERA. And we had one excellent baseball team. We finished 95–67, six games behind the Yankees but still good enough to be the American League wild card. This looked like it could very well be the year the Red Sox finally went all the way, and I wanted to be smack in the middle of all the drama and all the joy.
The first half of that wish came true.
Respect was the word my parents and their generation preached most often. Respect for your elders. I only wish I had recalled their voices on Oct. 11, 2003. When 72-year-old Don Zimmer came barreling toward me, I wish I had not grabbed his head and pushed him to the Fenway grass as he stumbled and fell forward. Some days I feel more people remember me as the angry young man who pushed down a defenseless old man than as the pitcher who won three Cy Young Awards and a world title and wound up in the Hall of Fame. In my entire baseball career, my reaction to Zimmer’s charge is my only regret.
Like most of what happened to me and the Red Sox in the 2003 postseason, the Zimmer incident defied easy explanation. In the first round of the playoffs we faced Oakland, which had one more win than we did. In Game 1, I labored and we lost 5–4. We dropped the second game 5–1 and went back to Fenway Park in a do-or-die situation.
Trot Nixon won Game 3 for us with a walk-off home run in the 11th inning. We took Game 4 as well and headed back to Oakland for the next day’s finale. The media wanted to know how I fared on the cross-country flight, but I was still boycotting them.
Barry Zito and I matched up in Game 5, and I pitched better. We were up 4–2 in the eighth when I quickly gave up another run. Manager Grady Little got me out of there after my 100th pitch. Alan Embree came in with no outs, one on and the go-ahead run at the plate. He got two quick outs, then Mike Timlin got the third. In the ninth the Athletics had the bases loaded with two outs and Terrence Long at the plate when Lowe threw the nastiest pitch I ever saw him throw: a two-seam fastball that tailed in and caught the inner half of the plate, right at Long’s knees. Long froze. Strike three, series over. Time for a champagne shower and then the plane back to the East Coast to face the Yankees in the ALCS.
After we split the first two games in New York, Clemens and I drew the starts for Game 3, at Fenway Park on Oct. 11. The hype around another Pedro-Roger matchup reached crazy heights. But those four coast-to-coast trips between Boston and Oakland, followed immediately by a trip to New York, wiped me out. I felt beat up, still jet-lagged. I pitched tired. We jumped out to a 2–0 lead, but Karim Garcia knocked in a run against me in the second and Jeter hit a home run in the third to tie the game. I started the fourth by allowing a walk, a single and a double. The Yankees, up 3–2, had two on with first base open and no outs. I was much more pissed about losing the lead than worried about Garcia, the next hitter. My catcher, Jason Varitek, set up for a low-and-inside pitch, but I was trying to go up and in.
I did a lousy job of it. I was paying too much attention to Hideki Matsui at second base, and I landed early with my plant leg, which meant the ball airmailed on me. It headed about six inches behind Garcia’s helmet. He ducked, but the ball grazed his back left shoulder. I could see he was furious.
Varitek and the home plate umpire quickly stepped in front of Garcia to make sure he didn’t do something stupid like come after me. After the umpire warned both teams that further inside pitching would not be tolerated, Garcia took first base.
It had been an accident, but Zimmer was riled up. He was chirping at me before the next batter, Soriano, hit a sharp ground ball to short, where Nomar Garciaparra started a double play with Todd Walker, our second baseman. A run scored and the Yankees had a two-run lead, but the two outs were important. The problem was that everyone in the stadium saw Garcia take out his frustration with a late, spikes-high slide on Walker. When Garcia came off the field, he barked at me not to hit him. I told him, in Spanish, “There’s no need to hit you, you dumb-ass. Don’t you see the situation? Play the game clean.”
That’s when Posada came up out of the dugout and started popping off. He was trying to stand up for Garcia, but he made a costly error with his word choice. “We’re going to get your ass, motherf-----,” he said in Spanish, adding that if I wanted to fight, to come on over and fight him. I had no reason to fight him. I never had any problem with Posada. But cursing my mom? That’s an unforgivable sin.
“Never forget what you just said, because I won’t forget it,” I yelled at Posada, pointing to my head. I was saying, Yes, I’m going to plunk you next time because I’ll remember what you said about my mother. What I was not saying was that I was going to hit him in the head. But a few Yankees took it that way. Most of them, though not Jeter, got out of their seats, and Posada began yelling at me even more.
A number of Yankees, including Clemens and Zimmer, were extremely agitated and clustered in front of their dugout. Both benches had been warned. After another minute, we resumed playing. Enrique Wilson, who was a .458 career hitter against me, popped up to Walker to end the inning.
In the bottom of the fourth, it was Manny against Roger. Manny had fallen behind, 1–2, when Roger threw a pitch up and in but not that close to Manny. I didn’t see anything wrong with the pitch, but Manny was on edge. He yelled and pointed at Roger and took a couple of steps toward him, and boom—the match fell into the fuel tank. Both benches emptied. Not a lot of punches were thrown, but everyone in a uniform was on the field. I stepped warily out of our dugout. I was just standing there, my red jacket on to keep my arm warm, when my eyes widened.
Oh, my God, Zimmer was running at me. I’d been charged on the mound before, but never off it, and never by a 72-year-old. What in holy hell was happening? The raging Gerbil, too, cursed my mom: “I’ll tell you what, you son of a bitch!”
“What?” I said as he got closer, his left arm raised, but that’s when he started to lose his balance. All I did was help him fall faster. Pure instinct. I also felt he wasn’t going to hurt -himself. Andy Pettitte came over, laughing. He said, “Zim, what are you doing?” The fight broke up as everyone tended to Zimmer, who had a scratch in between his eyes but luckily was fine.
Later Zimmer told me all he was thinking was that the way I was behaving was “horses---.” He thought I had “torn Karim’s head off and then looked over at Posada like ‘you’re next,’” he said. He later said, “[Pedro] didn’t do nothing bad to me. If I come at you like a bulldog, you’re going to do something to pull me down ... and that’s just what he did. I would have done the same thing.”
Shortly after Game 3, I received the first in a series of death threats that worried me like nothing else in my Red Sox days. They were very specific, against both me and my family. The police advised me to keep my family out of New York when the series went back there for Games 6 and 7.
Meanwhile I was more or less a prisoner at our team’s midtown hotel. We had extra security on our floor, and I didn’t go out once. When we boarded the bus to the stadium, the police and team security presence was unprecedented. We were dropped off outside the players’ parking lot, and we had to walk a 10-yard gantlet to get inside the stadium. This time a lynch mob awaited me. Someone yelled, “F--- you, Pedro. Zimmer’s not over. I’ll fight you.”
One man was beyond help: “Come over here, you son of a bitch. I hate you, you f------ punk.”
On days that I started, I could always spin a protective cocoon around myself in the hours before my first pitch. On Oct. 16, 2003, before Game 7 of the ALCS, I felt vulnerable. I had never pitched a game under more pressure. I felt physically threatened. I’d had a couple of days in my hotel room to stew about it, and I couldn’t get it out of my mind.
On my long, exposed walk to the outfield to begin my long toss and then my bullpen, the fans in the half-filled stands were fiercely hostile. When I stepped onto the mound before the bottom of the first inning, I glanced around the stadium. Before I could think about the first batter, Soriano, I had to stop thinking about meeting the same fate as John F. Kennedy.
I started pitching. I struck out Soriano, and the game was on. My worries began to lift. After four innings we were up 4–0, just 15 outs from going to the World Series. I had four strikeouts and had allowed one walk and two hits. Meanwhile, Clemens was all done, having allowed four runs on six hits.
I gave up a solo home run to Jason Giambi in the fifth, but in the sixth inning I needed just 11 pitches to collect my three outs. I had been averaging 13 throws an inning, quite efficient, and we had a three-run lead. There was no question that, at 79 pitches, I would go out for the seventh inning. But in that inning the Yankees started to get to me. I got two quick outs on just seven pitches and then began to fade. Giambi got me again with a home run to make it 4–2. Wilson and Garcia got singles, and Yankee Stadium started to smell blood. But I shut up the crowd with another strikeout of Soriano on my 21st pitch of the inning, the 100th of the game.
I was all done. I patted my chest and raised both hands in the air to point to God and thank him for keeping me healthy. Red Sox physical therapist Chris Correnti had already told Little, “He’s exhausted.”
I knocked the clods of dirt out of my cleats at the top of the steps and high-fived my smiling teammates before plunking myself down at the far end of the dugout. I closed my eyes, took a deep breath and exhaled. All the pressure and bulls--- from the past week began to slip away.
I opened my eyes and saw Little standing in front of me. “Petey, can you go out there and get one more hitter, Nick Johnson? You’ve handled him pretty well.”
Well, this was a surprise. But I said yes. What else could I say? While I began to restart my engines, Ortiz clobbered a home run in the top of the eighth to give us a 5–2 lead.
Johnson gave me a battle, but on pitch number 107 he popped up to shortstop. I gave a quick look into the dugout. Little wasn’t coming to get me.
There was no time to wonder why or to worry; it was time to face Jeter. He launched a double over Nixon’s head in rightfield. Bernie Williams was up next, and he lined an RBI single. Our lead was down to two, we had one out, and here came Little.
He surprised me again. “Petey, one more hitter, just Matsui,” he said. “You have more bullets for one more guy?”
“Yeah, Grady, why not?”
I gave up a screamer to Matsui, a ground-rule double that put Williams at third. Two on, one out. Posada was up, and I was still pitching. In the stands, Theo Epstein was very agitated. “It was horrifying, like watching a train wreck in slow motion,” he said later. “I felt bad for Pedro.”
Out in the bullpen, Tim Wakefield was thinking, “What the f--- is going on?” he said later. “They have to get him out of there.” Posada hit a soft double over the head of Walker at second. Tie ball game. Little finally came for me. “Way to battle, Petey,” he said. “Goddamn, don’t worry, we’ve got them next inning.”
Aaron Boone’s 11th-inning home run off of Wakefield ended the last tragic chapter in the Red Sox’ 85-year World Series drought. I wanted to cry. All of us were stunned, but we felt the worst for Wakey, who was sitting in front of his locker, his head buried in his hands. One by one, we walked over to put an arm around him: “Hey, man, it’s not your fault.”
I can’t say I felt as bad as Wakefield did, but it was close. I always felt responsible for the outcome of a game I pitched in, and that weight was crushing me. I also knew that when I left after the seventh, I had given it my best and had very little left to give.
Little knew that my OPS against rose significantly after 100, 105 pitches. I knew my manager had made a bad decision, but I could not blame him for the outcome. I was still throwing 94 on the last swing Posada took. I could have easily gotten an out if only I had executed. I didn’t execute, and it cost Little his job—and us a trip to the World Series.
It wasn’t Little’s fault, and it wasn’t Wakey’s fault. The blame was my own.