Top 50 Sox Seasons #3: Pedro Martinez, 1999

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.”

8 comments… add one

  • I was at that All-Star Game, when all the players came in from centerfield with Ted Williams. That was a great, moving moment, but it lacked the electricity that Pedro provided just minutes later.
    In retrospect Pedro’s performance to open that game seems even more mythical once you add the PED layer to the story. We are left, in some ways, with the image of a stringy magician somehow making a whole series of artificially Paul Bunyanesque sluggers look plain silly, Pedro’s accomplishment in front of his hometown fans seems almost like a parable now.

    SF March 30, 2008, 10:02 pm
  • It was actually six no-hit innings in Cleveland. not five.
    In that 17K game, the Yankees did not hit a fair ball on any of Pedro’s final 52 pitches!

    redsock March 30, 2008, 10:50 pm
  • Indeed SF, looking back it’s amazing watching him strike out Walker, Sosa and McGwire. Parable indeed.

    Atheose March 30, 2008, 11:03 pm
  • Indeed, it was, RS, thanks. Corrected.
    My favorite moment from Pedro’s ’99 is definitely that ALDS Game 5. The Sox were in the midst of rallying from a 2-0 games deficit. Saberhagen crapped the bed, and I fully expected a third opening-round loss to Cleveland in five years. Then Pedro, who was too hurt to start, comes in and just guts himself through those final six innings while the Sox come back to tie and take the lead.
    Pedro didn’t have his best stuff, and he still struck out eight. What a game. I still remember watching the TV as I lay on the living room floor, hanging on every pitch.
    Any pitcher with just one of the three Big Moments Pedro racked up in 1999 (ASG, 17-K, ALDS) would be remembered as one of the greats of the game.

    Paul SF March 30, 2008, 11:37 pm
  • I was working in a kitchen that year in the South End, listening to every game on the radio. It was an incredible year – I still remember the buzz every time Pedro pitched.
    But looking at that boxscore makes me shudder. Darren Lewis hitting second, Mike Stanley batting cleanup, Butch Huskey at DH and hitting fifth, and Damon Buford playing CF and hitting 7th. Ugh.
    Buford got 300 ABs that year with an OPS+ of 65. Our team OPS+ was 100. It makes what Pedro did all the more spectacular. Pedro carried that team on his shoulders all season long. Amazing.

    Tyrel SF March 31, 2008, 12:37 am
  • Pedro’s relief appearance against Cleveland will forever be the stuff of legend. That’s a story I’ll tell my kids over and over. It was about a month before I got married.
    And it won’t be long before I bury my anger at the diva-ish way Pedro slithered out of town so I can start teling the boy how great Pedro was when he pitched for RS, especially in 1999.
    (My second favorite Pedro moment was when he chucked the angry, charging Gerbil to the ground in ’04. I respected the Gerbil, but he deserved that.)

    I'mBillMcNeal March 31, 2008, 12:53 am
  • The most enduring memory I have about the 1999 ALCS game is the Cleveland crowd. They knew. Up until that point, the two teams were just crushing anything that came near the plate – it was going to be a back and forth slugfest all night (Boston had, after all, won the previous two games by a combined score of 32-10, and the Indians knew they were going to have to outslug the Sox to win).
    Then Pedro came out of the bullpen. And you could feel the whole crowd – even through the television – go “oh, shit”. The energy just went out of them. It didn’t matter that he was injured and didn’t have his fastball – this was Pedro Martinez.
    I will never forget the next six innings. And I will always, always be grateful that I got to watch that man in his prime.

    Micah-SF March 31, 2008, 1:11 pm
  • When I moved to Boston, I was not a Red Sox fan in the slightest. Watching this season unfold though (1999 was the first year I didn’t go home for the summer) put me on my track to Sox fandom. By the time September rolled around, I was a believer.

    FenSheaParkway March 31, 2008, 4:16 pm

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