Having spent a fair amount of time in Massachusetts, I had heard the stories. About how Pedro Martinez couldn’t take criticism. How he didn’t care for the media, or really the fans for that matter, and how he wasn’t going to deal with either if he didn’t want to. How he was almost always cranky and fairly unpredictable — a bouncy, happy-go-lucky guy one second and a temperamental diva the next. Certainly, since coming to the Mets, we’ve seen none of this. Quite a few Mets fans were worried when the Mets landed Pedro because of all the horror stories we’d been fed. However since donning the blue and orange Pedro has been an amiable, courteous, good sport.
Of course, the other part of what we’d been told was the long history of health issues. About how delicate the guy was. How looking at him the wrong way could shelve him for months. How you could blink and the next second you’d see Pedro on the DL.
The funny thing is, just like all the other things that haven’t been true in New York, Pedro’s health hasn’t been nearly the problem it was made out to be. Heck, last season this infamously fragile little guy put up thirty-one starts and pitched over two-hundred innings of quality baseball — despite a stiff back and, yes, that’s right, the notorious big toe.
Upon closer inspection of Pedro’s time in Boston, however, you’re left to wonder how exactly he landed that reputation in the first place. With the exception of his injury-shortened season in 2001 where he only managed eighteen starts, Pedro never started less than twenty-nine games in a season. In fact, over the course of his career in a Sox uniform, Pedro averaged twenty-nine starts a year — or 30.5 starts a year if you remove that 2001 torn rotator cuff season. In a game where a starting pitcher is expected to make thirty-three starts a year, that ain’t too shabby at all.
A lot has been made of Pedro’s health this offseason. A lot. Special shoes, rotation rearranging, widespread panic. Every NL East prediction has included the phrase, “If Pedro stays healthy…” But are we, the collective Mets fanbase, making too much of it? Is Pedro the key to the season? Absolutely. With the lineup Omar Minaya has cobbled together, a dominant Pedro would all but guarantee an NL East division title. Even a “just good” Pedro Martinez has a good chance of being enough to clinch the Wild Card. Everyone knows Pedro Martinez is the key to the Mets season — especially Pedro.
Last year, before Pedro was shut down for his final two starts, he delivered this parting line:
“If we’re thinking about winning next year, which we need very little — to my understanding — to actually have a very good, compact team, they should be thinking about the future. I’m here not for just one year. I’m here for four years. And those are three good years that you probably have an ace out there willing to go with you the extra mile to win. I’m a winner. And I hope I finish like that.”
Let us not forget that despite all the things we’ve heard and seen in Boston and in New York, there’s been two constants: Pedro Martinez is a winner and Pedro Martinez is a competitor. Looking at his past accomplishments shows this time and time again. A guy who had to fight his way into a starting rotation despite an electric arm because he was deemed too small to start. A guy who threw six innings of no-hit relief in the ’99 playoffs despite a strained back muscle. A guy who pitched far more innings than he should have from 2000-2003 because the team had no reliable second starter, nor much bullpen help. A guy who was deemed “done” by most experts in his first start in the World Series — and then went on to shut the Cardinals down through seven.
If there’s a chance that his team is going to win, he’s going to play.
If his team needs him, he’ll be out there.
The Mets need both this year.
I, for one, expect him to buck the reputation once again.