[From my book, Mets Fan]
I like to think that Pedro Martinez was always destined to be a Met. The way he pitches has always reminded me of Tom Seaver. He has power and variety and perfect placement. He has more innings pitched than hits and walks combined. Once he gets past the first inning, and knows what is working, he seems to be in an iron groove. No one can touch him until he tires.
When he came to us in 2005, Pedro pitched an absolutely typical Seaver season. An E.R.A. below 3. More than 200 strikeouts. A 15-8 record that should have been something like 20-6 but wasn’t because this was the .500 level Mets. There was the same adaptability as Seaver had, the same rock-steady intelligence. There was the same noble competence and patience.
But if Pedro pitched like Tom Seaver, his personality was more like Tug McGraw’s. Pedro is a thoughtful eccentric. A philanthropist and a gardener, a joker in a jacket, you have to love him. When the “Vote for Pedro” shirts started to appear at Shea, I thought it was terrific. Pedro could have come out of the world of Napoleon Dynamite. He seems to be entirely sane and just a little bit crazy. Ebullient in the dugout, he is almost grim on the mound. He stares at the catcher with something that looks disconcertingly like sadness and regret. But he is just concentrating. And he knows exactly what he is doing.
Fate washed Pedro up onto other shores, but when he came to us, it seemed as if he was the one destined to lead us out of our early millennial rut. Didn’t the coming of Pedro prove that Omar was real? Wasn’t it a sign of Omar’s grace and power? Now that Omar had brought Pedro to lead us, wouldn’t everything be different?
Everything was immediately different. In 2005, we felt, behind Pedro, as if we might soon be champions again. Though the team, in 2005, wasn’t worthy of him, he never complained. He was patient and content to inspire others to be worthy of him. In part thanks to Pedro, Carlos Delgado agreed to join us in 2006. Carlos Beltran would eventually become more comfortable. Jose Reyes would grow into a superstar. Maybe these things had nothing to do with Pedro, but he seemed to be involved with them somehow. Pedro changed what we expected of the Mets.
The 2006 season began as well as it possibly could have for Pedro Martinez. Without the 95 mph fastball he once had, he became one of the smartest, most surprising, most unsettling pitchers I have ever seen a batter face. He spent the first half of the 2006 season waving away the opposition, removing all obstacles, clearing a path to the championship. By the time Pedro faltered in midseason, the team knew where it was going and how it would get there. Pedro went on the disabled list for a while, and we waited patiently for him to come back. Let him rest up good, we thought, we don’t need him now, but we’ll really need him in the postseason.
When Pedro came back, he was mysteriously not any good any more. When it became clear that there was actually something wrong with him, we learned, at first, that he had torn a calf muscle. But then we learned that he needed rotator cuff surgery, and that he would not be coming back to us until late in the 2007 season. Who really knew what he would be able to do then, after shoulder surgery in his late thirties?
I don’t want Pedro Martinez to remain what he is now: a transitional figure separating two Mets eras. I want him to be a great Met. I want him to be part of our eternal rotation, with Seaver, Koosman, Matlack, Gooden, Darling, Fernandez, Ojeda, Cone, and Leiter. I want to see him win a game for us in the World Series. I want to see him coming down off the mound, pointing to the sky and giving thanks. I want him to enter the Promised Land with the rest of us.