23-4, 2.07/0.923/.210, 213.1 IP, 313 K, 37 BB, 13.2 K/9, 1.6 BB/9, 8.5 K/BB, 6.8 H/9, 243 ERA+
Postseason: 3 G, 2-0, 17 IP, 6 BB, 23 K, 0.00/0.647/.089
CY Young, All-Star starter and MVP, MVP – 2
We all as Red Sox fans must have done something right to have been granted the privilege of watching this skinny Dominican throw a baseball.
From the beginning of the season, Pedro was a revelation – proving that his 1997 was no fluke, and that the tastes of dominance he’d shown us the year before were just that: Mere tastes. The main course was so much better. For the first and only time in my life, I remember commentators realistically wondering whether a pitcher could win 30 games. Through 79 games in 1999, Martinez had won 15, and he entered the All-Star game the unquestioned best pitcher in the game.
He proved it by tying an All-Star record in front of the Fenway faithful. He struck out Barry Larkin, Larry Walker, Sammy Sosa and Mark McGwire in succession. After Matt Williams reached on an error, Martinez responded by striking out Jeff Bagwell. But that shining moment – on a night full of them – had a price. Martinez overthrew, tweaked his shoulder, bombed his next start, and then missed two more. There went the 30-win season.
If ever a pitcher was going to reach 30 wins again, it would have been in 1999, when Martinez received only three no-decisions, got 5.68 runs of support per game, and only once did not throw a quality start (by game score) – the July 18 injury-induced shellacking immediately following the All-Star Game. Without that start, which accounted for 14 percent of his total earned runs that season, Martinez would have finished with an ERA of 1.80.
His legend only grew in the postseason – one of the most memorable Red Sox playoff moments ever as Martinez, battling a balky back, came on in relief to throw six no-hit innings against Cleveland while the Red Sox rallied to win ALDS Game 5. In the ALCS, Martinez was the lone bright spot in an otherwise desultory five-game series for Boston. While ace-turned-enemy Roger Clemens again faltered under pressure, Martinez dominated the Yankees, striking out 12.
At the time, Pedro’s season was clearly setting to be an historic one. He remains the only Red Sox pitcher to strike out 300 in a season, his ERA was second only to Roger Clemens’ 1990 among live-ball pitchers, and his ERA+ was second only to Dutch Leonard’s 1914. Although it’s tempting to claim that Pedro Martinez’s 1999 was a once-in-a-generation gift from the baseball gods, that does an injustice to Greg Maddux and his strike-shortened 1994 and 1995. Nevertheless, Martinez’s 1999, especially given the offensive era, was clearly one of the best five to 10 pitching seasons in baseball history. And that’s before the postseason – where one can only wonder if Martinez would have managed the first-ever 0.00 ERA over 20+ postseason innings had the team around him been better and made it to the World Series.
Martinez was the unanimous choice for Cy Young, and but for a pair of writers leaving him off their MVP ballots, would have won that award, too. The omission by New York Post writer George King was particularly atrocious, as his given reason – that pitchers shouldn’t win the MVP – was belied by his voting for David Wells and Rick Helling the year before. It was an unfortunate blemish on what to that point had been the best pitching season in Red Sox history.
Key game: Of course. No pitcher has ever dominated the Yankees like Pedro Martinez did once he took the mound in the Bronx on Sept. 10.
The first two innings, though, do not seem all that spectacular. Martinez hits Chuck Knoblauch on the second pitch of the game, then allows a solo home run to Chili Davis in the second. After 1.2 innings, Martinez has allowed two baserunners and struck out two.
All he does next is retire the next 22 Yankees in order, striking out 15 in the final 7.1 innings. Davis’ homer is the only hit of the game. As the game wears on, Martinez only gets stronger. In the seventh, he strikes out Derek Jeter, Paul O’Neill and Bernie Williams on 18 pitches. In the eighth, he takes 11 to induce a Tino Martinez foulout and strike out Davis and Ricky Ledee. In the ninth, it is just 13 pitches to again strike out the side – Scott Brosius, pinch-hitter Darryl Strawberry and Knoblauch. Pedro strikes out eight of the final nine and 12 of the final 15 Yankee batters.
Martinez finishes with a 17-strikeout one-hitter, at the time the highest game score by any Red Sox pitcher in the Retrosheet era (since 1956, when box scores for every game are available and sortable). His 98 is one point better than Roger Clemens’ two 20-strikeout games. It also remains the highest ever nine-inning game score recorded against the Yankees. It is simply the most dominant pitching performance we will probably ever see.
“We didn’t get beat by the Red Sox,” O’Neill told the press. “We got beat by Pedro Martinez.”