Rocket Redux With overpowering performances in his first three starts, Pedro Martinez has ignited the kind of ardor that Red Sox fans once reserved for Roger Clemens

April 19, 1998

Pedro Martinez had seen crowds this size before, but in Montreal
they usually were in the stands during Expos games. In Boston
the fans were at the airport when he arrived in town, a couple
hundred of them cheering wildly and chanting his name as if he
were some kind of rebel leader in charge of a surprise Red Sox
resurgence. This was on Dec. 11, 2 1/2 months after the Red Sox
had finished 20 games out of first place and a long, cold winter
away from reporting day for pitchers and catchers. This was all
Martinez had to see.

"They were yelling and waving flags, and someone had a sign that
said WE LOVE YOU, PEDRO," says Martinez, who had been traded to
the Red Sox on Nov. 18. "That night I said to someone, 'I think
I love Boston already.'" He loved it a lot more a day later when
he signed a six-year, $75 million contract with the Red Sox, and
now, three starts into his American League career, Boston's love
has only intensified. The city and its 26-year-old superstar
already have taken to each other like Rick Majerus and Mrs.
Fields.

Even before he moved into an apartment across the river in
Cambridge, Martinez was a splash of color on Boston's
stodgy-gray baseball landscape, a proud Latin pitcher who shared
an intense passion for the game with the fans in his new
hometown. "That's why I knew he'd fit in so well," says Red Sox
pitching coach Joe Kerrigan, who also worked with Martinez in
Montreal. "The atmosphere here is similar to the Dominican
Republic [where Martinez is from]. Boston has the same passion
and love for the game, and I knew he'd appreciate that."

As he stepped outside of Fenway Park and into the players'
parking lot after the Red Sox home opener last Friday night,
Martinez laughed aloud at all the outstretched arms poking from
under the bottom of the security fence as if they were reaching
from the grave. These resourceful fans wanted an opportunity to
shake the new star's hand, even if they couldn't see his face.
Baseballs and trading cards came sliding out as well, and
Martinez signed each one and slid it back. "It's part of my
life," he says. He vows to never refuse an autograph or an
interview request and promises to embrace the stifling pressure
that waits around every turn for the ace of the Boston staff,
especially an ace making more money than any player in baseball
history. "He loves everything about it," says Franklin Jaime,
Martinez's cousin who lives in Providence. "This is the way he
wants it. To him, this is what baseball should be like."

As soon as they got a glimpse of him heading to his car, a
raucous mob of Red Sox fans broke into the chant "Pe-dro!
Pe-dro!" despite the fact that the game had ended nearly two
hours earlier and the temperature was 37[degrees]. That brought
a smile to Martinez's face. "There was always something missing
in Montreal, something that just didn't feel right," Martinez
said. "To be here and play for people who eat, drink and sleep
baseball, that makes me feel good. I think this is a special
place."

It is now. Every fifth day.

Martinez's first two Red Sox starts were on the West Coast, but
still they were events back in Boston. He struck out 11 in seven
shutout innings on Opening Day as the Sox beat the Oakland A's
2-0. The next day Boston sold 15,122 tickets to future home
games. He followed that up with a one-run, seven-inning,
no-decision effort against the Anaheim Angels before making his
Fenway debut last Saturday against the Seattle Mariners in an
April game that came equipped with an October buzz.

Hall of Famer Juan Marichal, who played briefly in Boston at the
end of his career, flew up from his home in the Dominican
Republic to see his countryman's Fenway debut. Also on hand was
Luis Tiant, a native of Cuba and a Boston legend thanks to his
heroics for the pennant-winning Red Sox of 1975. Martinez called
them "the two greatest Latin American pitchers ever." They were
joined by hundreds of jubilant fans from various Latin
communities around New England, making staid old Fenway look
like a colorful World Cup venue. Many of Martinez's admirers
waved Dominican flags and celebrated every strike their hero
threw. They only added to the electricity that Martinez sends
through a ballpark each time he takes the mound. "He just loves
to pitch in front of a packed house, with everyone standing,
watching him work," says first baseman Mo Vaughn. "I think he's
going to thrive here."

Martinez didn't just beat the vaunted Mariners hitters, he
dominated them. With a dazzling combination of velocity and
location, and a dizzying array of fastballs, sliders and perhaps
the best changeup in the league, Martinez allowed just two
singles and struck out 12 en route to a 5-0 shutout victory. In
his three starts with the Red Sox through Sunday, he had an ERA
of 0.39 and a league-high 32 strikeouts. His $75 million price
tag suddenly seems almost reasonable.

"His fastball is probably in the top five in baseball, his
breaking ball is probably in the top 10, and his changeup is
probably the best," says Red Sox reliever Jim Corsi. "You
combine that with a great command of his pitches and just enough
cockiness, and you get a guy who can throw any pitch, anytime,
anywhere."

"He's the first person I've ever seen with an above-average
fastball and an above-average changeup, too," says Seattle ace
Randy Johnson.

Against the quiet backdrop of the usually empty stands in
Montreal last year, Martinez preyed on National League hitters
like no pitcher in a generation, winning the Cy Young Award with
a 17-8 record, 1.90 ERA and 305 strikeouts. He became the first
pitcher since the Philadelphia Phillies' Steve Carlton in 1972
to finish a season with 300 or more strikeouts and an ERA of
less than 2.00, and he was the first righthander to do it since
the Washington Senators' Walter Johnson in 1912 (chart, left).
In some ways he was even more dominant than American League Cy
Young winner Roger Clemens, who departed Boston for Toronto as a
free agent after the '96 season, leaving the Red Sox without
anyone close to a No. 1 starter. And Martinez is nine years
younger than the 35-year-old Rocket.

"He's such an intelligent pitcher," says Marichal, "and he's
afraid of nothing." Someone mentions that Martinez isn't unlike
a young Marichal. "I don't think I ever threw that hard," says
the Hall of Famer. Nor did Marichal ever win a Cy Young, an
injustice, says Martinez, that prompted him to give his award to
a stunned Marichal at a Boston banquet in January. "I gave it
back to him on the flight back to the Dominican," says Marichal.

By conventional standards, Martinez is a freak. He's listed at
5'11" and 170 pounds, but appears even smaller in person. He has
scant muscle definition, and his long, soft face makes him look
about as intimidating as a mall cop. While his stuff says Randy
Johnson or Roger Clemens, his body says Rafael Belliard. When
his unimposing appearance is mentioned, Martinez smiles and
says, "Why don't you grab a bat? Then we'll see. I can look as
mean as a man 6'10" when I'm on the mound."

Indeed, Martinez may have soft, friendly features, but that
description doesn't apply to his eyes. The eyes belong to a
killer, a man with a mean streak as deep and wide as the Charles
River. An old reputation for deliberately throwing at hitters is
easing slowly, but Martinez says he still won't hesitate to
throw inside to anyone at any time. "Those are just stupid
thoughts," he says of the headhunting rap, "but if hitters want
to think that, let them. That just gives me the edge."

Martinez says that if he hadn't been born with the ability to
throw a baseball, he would probably be studying medicine today.
Through endless interviews, he remains fresh and thoughtful, a
rare feat for an athlete who is communicating in his second
language. Already there are stories of the unmarried Martinez
taking young teammates on clothes-shopping sprees and spreading
his wealth among his many family members. "Pedro takes care of
everybody," says Jaime.

When asked what he bought in the off-season to celebrate his
groundbreaking contract, Martinez says, "A church." He's not
kidding. The Immaculate Conception in his hometown of
Manoguayabo, built with Martinez's money, opened its doors on
Feb. 15, just hours before Martinez left for spring training.
"That was better than the Cy Young, better than the new
contract," says Martinez. "The people mobbed me and hugged me.
The priest blessed me. Everyone had tears in their eyes. It was
unbelievable."

That doesn't sound much different from the day he decided to
stay in Boston for the next six years.

On the November day when the news broke that Boston general
manager Dan Duquette had traded for a No. 1 starter named
Martinez, some cynical Red Sox fans had one question: Dennis or
Tippy? In recent years Boston had positioned itself as a
middle-market franchise, limited by a small and antiquated
ballpark and stuck in a division with those big-budget
heavyweights, the Baltimore Orioles and the New York Yankees.
The Red Sox weren't considered a contender--for the division
title or for Martinez's services.

But Duquette knew Martinez and he knew Montreal, having been the
general manager there from 1991 to '94. He knew that the Expos
wouldn't be able to afford to keep Martinez when his contract
ran out after the '98 season, and he also knew that he had what
Montreal needed. He gave up top pitching prospect Carl Pavano
and another minor league hurler, Tony Armas Jr., son of the
former Sox centerfielder. It was a risky deal, but not, says
Duquette, as risky as the one that brought him Martinez the
first time, a trade that is the highlight of his career as a
baseball exec. In '93 he sent Delino DeShields to the Los
Angeles Dodgers for Martinez, a move that didn't sit well with
Montreal fans. "They had a real connection with Delino, and
couldn't believe I gave him up for a rookie pitcher," says
Duquette.

This time he was widely applauded for the trade, but acquiring
Martinez was only part of the job. Then he had to find a way to
keep him. Martinez initially expressed reservations about
signing a long-term deal with the Red Sox. He said he didn't
like the way his friend and former teammate, Wil Cordero, was
run out of town by the fans and media after Cordero was charged
with (and later pleaded guilty to) beating his wife. Martinez
also wasn't sure the Red Sox were committed to winning. "To be
honest, I was disappointed when [the Expos] first told me I was
going to Boston," he says.

The generous contract offer changed his mind, and the Red Sox
ushered in a new era, investing nearly $100 million in player
contracts on top of the Martinez deal. That raised eyebrows in
Boston and around the league. "Just like that, we weren't a
small-market team anymore," says Vaughn, who seemed ready to
sign a three-year, $30 million extension before the Martinez
blockbuster upped the ante. While shortstop Nomar Garciaparra,
outfielder Troy O'Leary and third baseman John Valentin have
worked out long-term contracts with Duquette, Vaughn remains
unsigned after this season, and his contract negotiation has
evolved into a daily stare down between the headstrong slugger
and the stubborn general manager. "Now there's just one thing
left to do," says Martinez. "Sign Mo."

As Martinez drove out of the team parking lot last Friday night,
a large group of fans echoed his sentiments, breaking into a
loud chorus of "Sign Mo! Sign Mo!" He stopped his car, rolled
down the window, pumped his fist into the cold air and joined in
the chant "Sign Mo! Sign Mo!" In the car behind Martinez, stuck
amid the mob, Duquette just shook his head and smiled. Just what
he needed. Another crazed Boston baseball fan trying to tell him
what to do.

COLOR PHOTO: CHUCK SOLOMON COVER The Amazing Pedro Martinez He's so good, it's scary COLOR PHOTO: DAMIAN STROHMEYER A LOADED 45 Martinez has so many weapons, even Randy Johnson marvels at how well he throws the fastball and changeup. [Pedro Martinez pitching] B/W PHOTO: CULVER PICTURES [Walter Johnson] COLOR PHOTO: DAMIAN STROHMEYER LATIN LOVE Martinez returned a joyous salute from the fans after his two-hit mastery of the Mariners in his Fenway Park debut. [Pedro Martinez with glove raised to fans]

THE UNTOUCHABLES

Last year Pedro Martinez became the first righthanded pitcher
since Walter Johnson (above) to strike out more than 300 batters
and have an ERA under 2.00 in the same season. In all, that feat
has been accomplished only eight times in this century, and with
the exception of Vida Blue the other pitchers in the select
group Martinez joined are in the Hall of Fame.

PITCHER, TEAM YEAR RECORD ERA SO
Pedro Martinez, Expos 1997 17-8 1.90 305
Steve Carlton, Phillies 1972 27-10 1.98 310
Vida Blue, Athletics 1971 24-8 1.82 301
Sandy Koufax, Dodgers 1966 27-9 1.73 317
Sandy Koufax, Dodgers 1963 25-5 1.88 306
Walter Johnson, Senators 1912 33-12 1.39 303
Walter Johnson, Senators 1910 25-17 1.35 313
Rube Waddell, Athletics 1904 25-19 1.62 349

SOURCE: ELIAS SPORTS BUREAU

"He loves to pitch in front of a packed house," says Vaughn. "I
think he's going to thrive here."

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)