Wednesday, June 08, 2005

Pedro



Maybe the Red Sox' return to St. Louis, the scene of their greatest triumph, has stirred nostalgic sentiments for last year's team.

Maybe his vintage, stage-commanding, damn-near-historic performance today, so reminiscent of his headiest days in Boston, has jostled awake some fond memories.

Maybe the events of the day are manipulating my emotions.

But yeah . . . I miss him. I miss Pedro.

Oh, sure, there are things I definitely don't miss. I'm doing just fine without his predictable, excruciating low-run losses to the Yankees, and his silly proclamations afterward. I don't miss his transparent, greed-driven cries for respect, his undersized mascots, his demand for special treatment, his refusal to finish off Don Zimmer when he had the chance, his damn mango tree. I certainly don't miss the petulance that was such an unappealing part of the complex Pedro package.

And I don't necessarily wish the Red Sox had re-signed him. In fact, I remain confident, despite his sterling 7-1 start with the Mets, that time (and Pedro's well-worn rotator cuff) will ultimately prove Theo was correct in not committing $50-something million to him over the course of four years. There are more efficient, productive ways to spend that money, though I'm increasingly skeptical that David Wells is one of them.

A Pedro fan's worst fear - other than a mutually beneficial union with the Evil Empire, I suppose - was to have him re-sign with the Sox, suffer a career-threatening injury, and be forced to watch this proud, once-transcendant athlete rage against the dying light of his career. It would not have been pretty, and it would have diminished his legacy in Boston. He left at the appropriate time. Better a year too soon than a year too late.

But today . . . today he made me wish he'd never left at all. All it took was a glorious flashback, a glimpse of classic Pedro, the pitcher we had the privilege of watching for the better part of seven seasons, the pitcher who went an astounding 117-37 as a Red Sox, the pitcher who, at his '98-'99 peak, might just be the best there has ever been.

His starts are happenings now in New York, just as they once were in Boston. Attendance increases by 5,000 at Shea Stadium on the day he pitches, and the mangy old ballpark, in appropriately named Flushing, was properly electric today. So was his stuff. Pedro whiffed 12 - the 103d time in his career he has reached double-figures - and took a no-hitter into seventh inning. Just when it appeared that he might be en route to the first no-no in Mets history and the first of his own decorated career (how is it that he and Roger Clemens have never thrown one, but Derek Lowe has?), an obscure Astro named Chris Burke cranked a home run into the left field seats. (I'm presuming this isn't the same Chris Burke who played Corky on "Life Goes On.")

The improbable blast was one of just two Houston hits in Pedro's complete-game masterpiece, which he punctuated in his usual showman's fashion by striking out the final four batters, the last three looking.

After the final strike - a backdoor changeup that froze Burke - he strolled off the Shea Stadium mound in that familiar pose, his arms raised, aiming skyward, his face beaming that billion-watt smile, chants of "Pedro! Pedro!" ringing in his ears.

Watching this, you couldn't help but flash back to similar scenes during his time here: the 17-strikeout, 1-hit work of art in the Bronx in '99 (in which he struck out the final five Yankees), the six no-hit innings of relief work with a creaky oblique muscle in Game 5 of the 1999 ALDS, and of course, his 7-inning, 1-run beauty in Game 3 of the World Series last October, a victory that turned out to be his final act as a Red Sox.

Watching this, you also couldn't help but accept the truth: Today, Pedro Martinez officially became a New York Met. Whatever magical things that remain in Pedro's right arm belong to them now.

Our memories will have to do.

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