Believe it or not, it’s been 20 years since arguably the most impressive performance of Pedro Martinez’s career.
Friday marks two decades since the Boston Red Sox legend put the team on his ailing back in Game 5 of the American League Division Series against the Cleveland Indians, rescuing the Sox’s season in the process.
After suffering a lat injury in Game 1 against the Tribe, it looked as if Martinez’s season was done. The painful injury was likely to sideline the eventual Cy Young Award winner for the rest of the series, and when Boston fell behind 2-0 after an 11-1 blowout loss in Game 2, it looked like Martinez’s (and Boston’s) season was done.
However, the Red Sox rebounded at home, throttling Cleveland with a 9-3 win in Game and a 23-7 trouncing in Game 4 at Fenway Park.
That set the stage for a winner-take-all Game 5 at Jacobs Field in Cleveland. Martinez was hellbent on taking the ball at some point in Game 5, but that was obviously easier said than done. He had hardly picked up a baseball since Game 1, and even if he could get back on the mound, it almost certainly would have been in a brief relief stint.
“The day before I had tried to throw a ball 10 feet and I couldn’t,” Martinez said in an interview for “The Pedro Martinez Story” years ago. “I guess adrenaline and a little work until like 1:30, 2 in the morning with my therapist and somehow that just loosened up a little bit. I remember arguing with Jimy. Because I told (Red Sox manager Jimy Williams), ‘Jimy I want to go out there and see what I can do now that it’s not too late.'”
“In talking to the medical staff here, the night before we left, they talked to us about Pedro with the possibility that he might be able to give us one, possibly two at the most — 40 pitches, tops,” Sox pitching coach Joe Kerrigan said at the time. “As the game went on, we started to run a little low on pitching.”
Game 5 was a wild one. Nomar Garciaparra gave the Red Sox a 2-0 lead in the first inning with a home run to center field, but Sox starter Bret Saberhagen and his ailing shoulder gave it right back in the bottom half. Behind home runs from Jim Thome and Travis Fryman, Cleveland built a 5-2 lead after two innings, chasing Saberhagen.
However, the Red Sox improbably rallied in the third inning, as Cleveland loaded the bases by intentionally walking Garciaparra. Red Sox left fielder Troy O’Leary made Cleveland pay, socking a grand slam to right field.
Once again, though, Boston’s pitching couldn’t hold the now two-run lead, as Thome went deep again, this time off Derek Lowe. It would be the Tribe’s final hit of the night.
Martinez, despite excruciating pain he called “the worst I’ve ever felt in my life,” went to the bullpen and warmed despite anything Williams might have said or wanted.
“I said ‘Jimy, I’m going and I’m sorry to jump ahead of your word, your decision, but I’m gonna go, and if I can pitch, I’m gonna pitch now,” Martinez recalled. “I told Shooter (Rod Beck), ‘Shooter, if I can pitch, I’m going in. If Jimy doesn’t let me, he’s gonna have two pitchers on the mound.’ So I decided to go in, and Shooter said ‘OK, if you feel fine, just go ahead.’ So they called from there, ‘Is Pedro OK?’ Cumby told him, yes, he’s not throwing really hard, but he’s throwing the ball over so I went in and the rest is history.”
You can say that again.
Martinez’s final masterful line that night: six innings, zero hits, three walks, eight strikeouts and the most important Red Sox win since 1986, as O’Leary provided more than enough offense with his second home run — a three-run bomb — in the seventh to give Boston the victory.
The Red Sox eventually were eliminated in five games in the American League Championship Series by the New York Yankees — with Martinez getting the lone Boston win.