Commentary

Pedro once again the enemy in Bronx

Phils' Game 2 starter knows all about pitching under the bright lights against Yankees

Originally Published: October 29, 2009
By Jorge Arangure Jr. | ESPN The Magazine

NEW YORK -- Yankee Stadium -- the old, crumbling version with all the history, not the new monument to financial excess -- is quiet now, shrouded in black netting like a widow at a funeral. Soon it will be condemned to a death sentence, execution by jackhammers and wrecking balls.

[+] EnlargePedro Martinez
Christopher Hanewinckel/US PresswirePedro Martinez pitched seven shutout innings in the Phillies' only loss to the Dodgers in the NLCS.

Five years ago, on a brisk night -- not unlike the one that's expected Thursday for Game 2 of the 2009 World Series -- the old Yankee Stadium was solemn and sullen, not much different than how it is now in its state of purgatory.

The Red Sox, in Game 7 of the 2004 American League Championship Series, had pounded Yankees starter Kevin Brown and jumped to a quick and seemingly insurmountable 8-1 lead after six innings. The crowd was silent at the start of the bottom of the seventh, panicked for the fate the Yankees were about to face. They were on the edge of becoming the first team in baseball history to surrender a 3-0 series lead in the postseason.

And then the outfield gates opened and Pedro Martinez came onto the outfield grass.

The crowd recognized Martinez immediately and came to life by cheering, "Who's your daddy?" Other fans simply booed Martinez. Many others flipped him the middle finger.

"I remember how quiet Yankee Stadium was due to our large lead, and then how loud it got the second Pedro entered the game," Red Sox general manager Theo Epstein recalled. "I was afraid we had created some momentum for them just by putting Pedro in the game."


Martinez arrived at the new Yankee Stadium on Wednesday for Game 1 of the 2009 World Series and did not know where to go. He was lost. At one point he considered going through the media entrance.

This is not the same Yankee Stadium he's always known. But then again, Martinez is not the same pitcher who so famously had pitched at Yankee Stadium many times.

"I don't know if you realize this," Martinez told a crowded room of reporters during his news conference in anticipation of his Game 2 start Thursday, "but because of you guys in some ways, I might be at times the most influential player that ever stepped in Yankee Stadium.

"For some reason with all the hype and different players that have passed by, maybe because I played for the Red Sox, is probably why you guys made such a big deal every time I came in. But you know, I have a good bond with the people. After playing in New York, I went to realize something: New York fans are very passionate and very aggressive. But after it all, after you take your uniform off and you deal with the people, they're real human beings. It's all just being fans."

The nearly 45-minute news conference appeared to be an attempt by Martinez to reconcile with New York fans for perhaps one last dance. A strange thing happened to Martinez's often tepid relationship with New Yorkers: He became one of them. Martinez learned that the same passion the fans had used to blast him during his years with the Red Sox ushered cheers for him when he became a member of the New York Mets in 2005.

As Martinez winds down his career, he experiences each moment wistfully, perhaps knowing that each pitch or each game could be his last. After his remarkable seven shutout innings at Dodger Stadium in Game 2 of the NLCS, Martinez recalled how he had spent his first few days in Los Angeles remembering the beginning of his career with the Dodgers. Martinez gazed at Dodger Stadium from the outfield while shagging fly balls during batting practice prior to Game 1. He saw fans so young that they never knew he pitched for the Dodgers. It made him feel old.

But just as Martinez has learned to pitch without the 95 mph fastball, so too has he realized he no longer needs to take hatred onto the mound to motivate him.

Pedro Martinez The way people perceive me in New York … is totally different than the way I am. I just compete. And yes, I will do whatever it takes to beat you. But I'm a human being after I take my clothes off.

-- Pedro Martinez

When he walks onto the Yankee Stadium mound for his Game 2 start, he will remember how he's forever linked to New York, for better or for worse. He will remember how the tabloids often painted him as the devil, literally, dressed in horns and a tail.

"The way people perceive me in New York -- I don't know if they got to know me a little bit better after I got to the Mets -- is totally different than the way I am," Martinez said. "I just compete. And yes, I will do whatever it takes to beat you. But I'm a human being after I take my clothes off. A lot of people can witness that any time, anywhere, any moment."

Martinez will remember his last playoff game in New York, Game 7 of the ALCS, when he jogged to the mound, amid the boos and jeers, with a fire burning in his belly, an ache in his shoulder and a firm desire to quiet each and every fan who dared hate him.


For more than a year, Martinez had carried the burden of his altercation with Don Zimmer from the 2003 ALCS. Martinez, who said he could hardly command his pitches because of an aching shoulder that "barked" during that postseason, had hit then-Yankees outfielder Karim Garcia with a pitch in Game 3. Later in Game 3, during a separate altercation, Zimmer -- then the Yankees' 72-year-old bench coach -- charged Martinez.

"I thought he was going to say something, but his reaction was totally the opposite," Martinez recalled. "He was trying to punch my mouth and he told me a couple bad words about my mom. I just had to react and defend myself kind of. But the tweak that it took made me look like a monster."

While he calmly jogged from the bullpen to the mound for Game 7 in 2004, Martinez used the abuse he had gotten from New York fans and the media for the altercation with Zimmer as motivation. Martinez's final bit of revenge would be to bury the Yankees by helping send the Red Sox into the World Series.

Though his heart wanted so badly to beat the Yankees, his shoulder simply wouldn't cooperate. Martinez allowed runs on a double by Bernie Williams and a single by Kenny Lofton. Suddenly, the Yankees had climbed back into the game, and the crowd had once again come alive for the first time since the first inning.

With the final bit of energy his tired shoulder could muster, Martinez struck out John Olerud and forced Miguel Cairo to fly out to end the rally. When he returned to the Boston dugout, fans jeered and cursed, and some flipped him the finger.

"My mom, my poor mom, I'm glad she's blessed by God because all those curses were, I mean, unbelievable," Martinez said. "I blew up the lead, but I don't regret it. It was a great moment. It was a great game. I competed. I did everything I had to do to actually win a ballgame. Fell short. So what? I'm not the last one. It's not going to be the last one. That's why you go out there, to try to survive a game, win it or lose it. I had the great honor to pitch one of the biggest games that a player has ever played in the whole stadium. And that's a good memory to have."


Surely New York fans will boo Martinez on Thursday during his Game 2 start, a reaction Martinez thinks stems from the media's portrayal of him. Cast him as the enemy countless times, and people will start to believe it, Martinez rationalized.

So Martinez says he has no ill will toward the New York fans. He has come to understand them and even admire them at times.

When they chant "Who's your daddy?" Martinez will remember how he believes God is his daddy, and that will fill him with joy because who could have ever thought that someone so slight could cause such furor in the greatest city in the world? He will remember how fans would never be so passionate about a middling player. Only the great ones are hated. He will remember to curb his emotions after a game, since those emotions were the reason he had called the Yankees his "daddy" in the first place.

But in one corner of the Phillies clubhouse after their Game 1 6-1 win against the Yankees, Cairo -- now a reserve infielder for Philadelphia -- hoped for a different atmosphere in Game 2.

"Hopefully they [chant 'Who's your daddy?'] tomorrow," Cairo said. "I hope they boo him."

Cairo recalls how many Yankees did not want to see Martinez come into Game 7 of the 2004 ALCS. The Yankees knew that Martinez pitches better when the fans are against him and the odds are not in his favor.

Cairo believes that the fire never really goes away, even when you become a crumbling, older version of who you once were.

Jorge Arangure Jr. is a senior writer for ESPN The Magazine.