Aside from rooting against the Yankees, the Red Sox and their Nation of followers didn't really have a horse in this 2009 World Series race. But when Pedro Martinez was called on to pitch Game 2 for the Phillies, that changed.
Pedro went six innings on Thursday night in the Bronx, allowing three runs on six hits while striking out eight and walking two. He allowed the game-tying home run to Mark Teixeira in the fourth and the go-ahead blast to Hideki Matsui in the sixth. He was eventually saddled with the loss as the Yankees evened the series at one with their 3-1 victory. But pitching on Thursday wasn't solely about winning or losing for Pedro.
See, Pedro was one of ours. He spent seven terrific seasons in Boston, going a combined 117-37 with a 2.52 ERA and winning two Cy Young Awards. He was a member of the 2004 world champion Red Sox, the team that changed everything in this town. It's no stretch to say that he'll likely wear a Red Sox cap into Cooperstown someday.
But following the World Series win in 2004 — the clinching Game 4 was five years ago this past Tuesday — Pedro, then 33, wanted a four-year deal to stay in Boston. The Red Sox' brass said no, citing concerns about Pedro's shoulder and his injury-plagued past. And Pedro left to join the Mets for a four-year contract worth $54 million. Yes, he upset Red Sox fans by leaving for New York, but at least he didn't pull a Johnny Damon and sign with the Yankees. It was harder to blame Pedro for leaving.
In his four years with the Mets, he did struggle with injuries, averaging less than 20 starts per season and going just 32-23 with a ballooned 3.88 ERA. And entering 2009, he had no team, despite pitching well for the Dominican Republic in the World Baseball Classic. He joined the Phillies late in the summer as a relative afterthought. But after earning a win in his first start on Aug. 12, he became much more than that.
Now, as probably the second-best reason to root for the Phillies in the 2009 Fall Classic, Pedro, one of our guys, was getting the start in Game 2 in the Bronx. The TV networks began rerunning the clips of Pedro's now-infamous line following a 2004 loss to the Bronx Bombers at Fenway: “I just tip my hat and call the Yankees my daddy.” Memories resurfaced of the Red Sox' trip to New York late in 2004 when the "Who's Your Daddy?" chants rained down from the rafters of the old Yankee Stadium.
Pedro, who turned 38 last Sunday, made waves with the local media on Wednesday by commenting that he "might be at times the most influential player that ever stepped in Yankee Stadium."
So in Game 2, would Pedro again be forced to tip his hat and call the Yankees his daddy?
He pitched into the seventh inning before getting yanked by manager Charlie Manuel with two on and none out. After he handed the ball to Manuel, he walked off the mound, pointed to the sky, tapped his chest and smiled wryly at the booing Yankee Stadium fans as he stepped down into the dugout. Yep, that's our Pedro.
It was far from his best performance, he said after the game, acknowledging that he hadn't been feeling particularly well.
"I’ve been under the weather the last two days," Martinez admitted in the postgame news conference. "That’s not an excuse, but I haven’t felt as strong. I haven’t been eating right. I had very little … sleep. But I felt good enough to make pitches. And that’s what I told [Manuel]."
But there were signs of his old, dominant self. His eight strikeouts were the second-highest total he'd posted this season. His changeup — his "Bugs Bunny pitch" as Joe Buck and Tim McCarver called it, because it comes speeding toward the plate and then almost seems to stop just as it gets there — was particularly nasty.
"He pitched phenomenal[ly]," said ESPN analyst and former Phillie John Kruk after the game. "His fastball was never into the 91-92 mph range like it was in the National League Championship Series against the Los Angeles Dodgers," much less the mid-to-high 90s he could reach during his tenure in Boston. "But, you know, he pitches with his head, he pitches with his heart, and he pitches with feel. The feel is what he needs to get through, and he got through. And he had a chance to win."
He really did. Our guy had a chance to beat the Yankees in the World Series, and he pitched well enough to do just that. Maybe if the Philadelphia hitters had gotten more than four hits and one run for Pedro while he was in the game. Maybe if Ryan Howard hadn't gone 0-for-4 with four strikeouts and left two runners on, we'd be talking about Pedro as the winning pitcher. But always the realist, Pedro was content with his performance.
"That’s all I could do for today," he said. "I don’t feel like I saved anything. I did everything I could to beat those guys. You have to give them a lot of credit.
"Sometimes when you pitch, hitting is going to be slow. And when you don’t [pitch well], hitters are going to take advantage of it. When I made a couple of mistakes, I paid for them. Teixeira’s home run, to me, it seemed like he hit a good pitch. I just have to tip my hat and …"
He's not going to say it, is he?
"… let it go."
"Matsui, I was disappointed," Martinez said regretfully, "because the pitch was not the one I probably would have chosen if I was to think again. But I was just in a groove of throwing pitches. I just flipped a curveball there and paid for it."
Still, given the adversity he's faced over the past few years with the injuries and the lack of teams interested in his services, the fact that he was able to again reach this stage and perform so admirably is nothing short of remarkable.
"Regardless of what happened — the fact was that I was the loser today in the game," Martinez said Thursday night, "I’m extremely proud and happy to have been able to participate and compete against a real, real good team. To be able to put my team in position to catch up or win that game [was great]. At the same time, it made me feel that I made the right decision by coming back and getting this opportunity."
Before leaving, Pedro was asked what it was like to pitch again in front of the Yankees fans, and he couldn't resist a jab at the supporters who have always reacted to him with such passion and energy.
"I know they really want to root for me," he said. "It’s just that I don’t play for the Yankees, that’s all. They love the fact that I compete. … If I was on the Yankees, I’d probably be like a king over here."
It's true. They would love him. And Pedro deserves to be treated like a king wherever he pitches. And it warms your heart that his Phillies teammates — along with the often-fickle fans in Philly — seem to appreciate his worth.
If this World Series goes to six or seven games, Pedro may well get a chance to pitch again. As ESPN's Dave Winfield said after Game 2, "I don’t think this is the last time we’ll see Pedro Martinez in this series. If you want to win this series, you’ve got to go with your top pitchers, and I think Pedro is one of those guys."
It's hard to disagree. And if he takes to the mound again, Red Sox Nation will again be cheering him on with all of its collective might.