From 1997-2003, The Diminutive Dominican Right-Hander Was A God Among Men

By Jason Keidel
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Greg Maddux is the greatest craftsman I’ve ever seen on a mound.

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Pedro Martinez is the greatest pitcher I’ve ever seen on a mound.

The difference between the two — who are hardly imposing or intimidating in any physical sense, both built more like accountants than athletes — is the otherworldly talent stored in Pedro’s right arm.

Both men were brilliant pitchers, both blessed with ample brain cells and instincts for the game. Maybe Maddux was more of a thinker, but not by much. Both were impossible to hit in their primes at their best.

But Pedro was just more dominant. Than anyone. When the math geeks and sabremetricians dissect Pedro’s stats, accounting for the difference in eras and the wide chasm between his numbers and his peers, some are left with a legitimate argument that he was, at his apex, the best who ever gripped a ball.

Who am I to argue? As a Yankees fan I don’t need to be sold on his dominance, prominence, or eminence. The Yankees allegedly owned him, leading him to sardonically brand the Bronx Bombers his “Daddy.” Yet I was there that night in 2000 when he and roger Clemens made one of the best pitched games in 150 years. Yankee Stadium, the old, the real, Yankee Stadium, morphed into a temple, an altar, the Church of the Changeup. We knew the men were special, but we couldn’t have predicted both at their best at the same time in the same place on higher same night.

From, say, 1997 through 2003, Pedro Martinez was a pitching chainsaw, buzzing through bats with alarming alacrity. Throw a dart at a year and you’ll find biblical numbers. In 1997 his ERA was 1.90. In 1999 he went 23-4. In 1999 he struck out 313 batters, in 213 innings. That’s not a typo. He struck out 100 more hitters than he had innings pitched.

But let’s stick with 2000, which, according to a piece on cbsssports.com, is the greatest of all.

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His ERA was 1.74. Clemens, his fellow icon and opponent during that enchanted spring dusk, finished the year with a 3.70 ERA. Why is that relevant? Because Clemens finished second in the AL in ERA. To give you some perspective on how absurdly dominant that is, Clemens and Martinez were as close together as Clemens and the 35th-best ERA. Only five AL pitchers finished the year with an ERA under 4.00.

Comparatively speaking, the number is better than Bob Gibson’s epic 1.12 ERA in 1968. Indeed, there were seven NL pitchers in ’68 with an ERA under 2.20. Plus, the average runs scored per game that season was 3.4, as opposed to 5.3 in 2000. Not to mention the mound was higher and the men were much smaller. It’s fair to assert that Y2K was the year of the PED, the apex of the epoch, with more juicers than a QVC commercial.

Every batter in the top 10 had at least 40 homers in 2000, whereas only one hitter had 40 homers in all of MLB in 1968 (Frank Howard).

Oh, and Pedro’s WHIP was 0.74 — the best mark in MLB history.

Then we had Pedro’s singular, seminal moment, alone, where he belonged. The 1999 All-Star Game, fittingly in Fenway Park, was a showcase a display case, a twin tribute to Ted Williams and Pedro Martinez.

The tear-soaked arena was pitch-perfect for the perfect pitcher. After the world applauded Williams, the baseball and war hero in repose, Pedro did his part, making those syringe-wielding behemoths look like Little Leaguers, fanning five in two innings, and leaving to an ovation normally reserved for a Caesar.

And lest we New Yorkers forget his stint in Shea Stadium, the signing that made the Mets instantly relevant, taking them within a whisker of the World Series. He’d morphed from power pitcher into a chess master, from overwhelming heat to head games. Pedro Martinez was, simply, a master.

So it’s quite fitting that he finds his way into the Hall of Fame. It was never in doubt, of course. Like Sandy Koufax before him, his win total was totally incidental. His dominance was so pure, pronounced, and profound that stats are simply a prologue, a hint at his genius. And a genius he was, both physically and metaphysically.

Randy Johnson literally towered over Pedro at the ceremonies. You could fit two Pedro’s inside one Randy, but there’s only one Pedro Martinez, who was literally twice as good as just about anyone who ever gripped a baseball.

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Follow Jason on Twitter at @JasonKeidel