Twenty years ago Wednesday, the love affair between Boston Red Sox fans and Pedro Martinez began.
On April 11, 1998, Martinez took the ball at Fenway Park for the first time as a member of the Red Sox, and he didn’t disappoint.
It wasn’t the future Hall of Famer’s true first impression, of course. After being acquired from the Montreal Expos that winter, Martinez made two starts on the road before the club returned to Boston. Those stellar outings were signs of things to come — he allowed a single run over 14 innings with 20 strikeouts — but they paled in comparison to what he did on a sun-soaked afternoon in Boston against the Seattle Mariners.
Martinez blanked the Mariners for his first complete-game shutout with the Red Sox, allowing just two hits and two walks while striking out 12 to earn the win. Of his 125 pitches, 84 were strikes, as he mowed down a lineup boasting the likes of Alex Rodriguez, Ken Griffey Jr. and Edgar Martinez.
In fact, it was Griffey who popped up to end the game.
From that afternoon on, Martinez’s starts became the hottest ticket in Boston for the next seven years. Beer and bathroom breaks would be reserved for when the Red Sox were at bat, as to not miss a single pitch from the great Pedro.
When No. 45 was on the mound, it was an event, and everyone wanted to be a part of it.
“I think it’s great,” Red Sox first baseman Mo Vaughn told reporters that afternoon, per The Boston Globe. “You got a guy from another country who brings people into the stands from other places, and Boston isn’t known for that. Flags? I like that. It’s a great thing.”
What made Martinez so special — in addition to his generational talent, of course — was that he reciprocated the adoration as much as he could, even back to the first start.
“I remember one guy who was somewhere behind the plate, who kept telling me in Spanish to strike out the guy,” Martinez said, according to the Globe. “He kept saying, in Spanish, ‘poncha-lo, poncha-lo, poncha-lo,’ and I couldn’t pick up the guy, but I heard him. Another kid kept saying, ‘Pedro, we love you! Pedro, we love you!’ in English, and so it was really nice to hear that.”
He added: “I like the fans here. I like the way they reacted today. I have a passion for the game. I play for myself, my teammates, and my family, but I also feel a responsibility to my team and the fans, with the money they’re paying me.”
Juan Marichal, the greatest pitcher from the Dominican Republic not named Pedro Martinez, was in attendance that day, too.
“I’m going home feeling as happy as I’ve ever been in my life,” Marichal said, per the Globe.
Red Sox fans would come to know a similar feeling for the duration of Martinez’s career in Boston.
Thumbnail photo via YouTube
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