PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. --
Earlier in the day, on a back field at the Mets' complex late Friday morning, not far from the main stadium but miles away from the frenzy,
After the 50-pitch workout, Martinez literally hopped off the mound to share fist-bumps with manager
This is the absolute best that Mets' fans could hope for. This is better than the Yankees screwing up or
"Even though you pitch, you're not supposed to complain, according to you guys," Martinez told SI.com after the workout. "When something's not right, you try to battle it out and you go out there and you pitch. And sometimes you get away with good games, especially if you use your head and your experience. And people think, 'He's fine.'
"But since 1999, after I got hurt in Cleveland, I've never thrown this way. I feel great. I feel like the Pedro of '97, '98."
Santana was batted around in his debut on Friday afternoon, and now there are worries about first baseman
Come on, now. A 1-2 rotational power punch of Santana-Martinez, both on top of their games? It would instantly become one of the best in baseball [see chart]. It'd hardly seem fair.
"There's only a small handful of true aces out there, true No. 1s," says Mets third baseman
Martinez has done plenty since the late '90s, of course. Since his magical 23-4 season in 1999, he's gone 102-43. He threw at least 200 innings in three of those years and was close to it in another. But a series of nagging injuries -- starting, maybe, with the one against the Indians in the playoffs back in '99 -- has sapped much of his effectiveness.
When he signed a four-year, $53 million deal with the Mets before the 2005 season, there were a lot of questions about a sore shoulder, which is one of the reasons that the Red Sox didn't try harder to keep him. In his one full season with the team -- that first one, in 2005 -- he made 31 starts, went 15-8 with a 2.82 ERA and allowed less than one baserunner per inning, the best in the NL in that category. But the sore right shoulder finally caught up to him in 2006, and in October of that year -- after 23 starts that season -- he had rotator cuff surgery.
The surgery knocked him out of all but five September starts last season, when he showed middling velocity on his fastball in his carefully guarded return to pitching, going 3-1 with a 2.57 ERA. Now, he says he's back and ready to fire. He's felt so good that, last week, he said he'd listen to an offer from the Mets to extend his contract. He's due to make $11 million in the final year of the deal. The Mets, for now, aren't biting.
"I just threw around 50 pitches, and I feel like I can go out and throw 50 more," Martinez said after his workout. "I feel healthy."
To just about everyone who has seen him, he looks healthy, too. "I think, physically, this is the best that I've seen him since he became a Met," Wright says.
Even Martinez will admit that he's no longer the Mets' ace. That title now falls to Santana, by virtue of his record six-year, $137.5 million contract and two Cy Young Awards in the past four years. But Martinez, ever-confident, isn't about to back down to anybody else as far as being the one to count on.
"There is a lot of responsibility that comes with being No. 1, and I could still be that guy," he told the New York
If anyone can challenge Santana for team ace, though, it's a late-'90s Martinez. That's a battle that the Mets, and their fans, would love to see.
With Johan Santana and Pedro Martinez, the Mets have perhaps the best 1-2 pitching punch in baseball. Here are some others: