08/12/09 2:00 AM ET
Legendary Pedro turns games into events
Never a dull moment when three-time Cy winner takes mound
By Todd Zolecki / MLB.com
This is not a sure thing like Cliff Lee is a sure thing. Pedro Martinez, who makes his highly anticipated debut with the Phillies on Wednesday night against the Cubs at Wrigley Field, has not pitched in the Majors since last year, when he went 5-6 with a 5.61 ERA with the Mets. Lee won the American League Cy Young Award last year. Lee is in his prime.
"I might surprise you. I might not," Martinez said with a devilish grin at his memorable introductory news conference last month at Citizens Bank Park. "But it's going to be fun. It's going to be really fun to go out and find out."
Martinez has not been a dominant force in baseball since 2005, but he is a three-time Cy Young winner and future Hall of Famer.
He is a legend.
Legends create excitement. They turn games into events.
And Wednesday night will be an event.
"Let's see what he's got," Cubs left fielder Alfonso Soriano said.
Michael Jordan still drew crowds when he played for the Washington Wizards. Brett Favre still sold jerseys when he played for the New York Jets. Martinez is much like Jordan and Favre. They were the best at their sport at one time. And even in the twilight of their careers, the masses still hoped to see flashes of greatness from them.
But can Martinez still be great, even occasionally?
Can a 37-year-old pitcher who has been out of baseball still be expected to win games for a team in a pennant race?
"I don't have any expectations one way or another," Phillies general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. said.
That is probably for the best.
The Phillies found a hole in their rotation on May 27, when Brett Myers walked off the mound with an injured right hip that eventually required surgery.
They tried rookie left-hander Antonio Bastardo in that spot, but he got hurt after five starts. They replaced Bastardo with veteran right-hander Rodrigo Lopez. Lopez pitched well, but the Phillies weren't convinced he was the answer.
So the Phillies looked south.
Martinez had been looking for work since his contract expired with the Mets last year. He pitched effectively for the Dominican Republic in the World Baseball Classic in March -- he allowed one hit and struck out six in six scoreless innings in two relief appearances -- but nobody seemed convinced he could help.
Pedro's career stats
Teams balked at the price, and reports from workouts during the season in the Dominican were less than favorable.
Martinez said he was just picky.
"I just wasn't willing to sign a Minor League deal," Martinez said. "I wasn't willing to go to a place that I didn't feel comfortable going. I didn't feel like going with some teams."
The Phillies set up a workout with Martinez at their baseball academy in the Dominican in July. Phillies superscout Charley Kerfeld liked what he saw and recommended Martinez immediately. The Phillies set up another workout a few days later to see how Martinez's arm responded.
Phillies assistant general manager Benny Looper watched Martinez throw this time. He also liked what he saw.
The Phillies signed Martinez for a prorated $2 million contract, which means Martinez is guaranteed roughly $938,000. He receives bonuses based on starts, innings pitched and days on the active 25-man roster. The Phillies have 52 games to play, including Wednesday's game, which means Martinez could make roughly nine starts before the end of the regular season.
If he makes nine starts, he would make $300,000 in bonuses. If he pitches 50 innings, he makes another $75,000. If he remains on the active roster the remainder of the season, he could make an additional $150,000.
That is roughly $1.46 million, if he remains in the rotation the rest of the season.
It is a low risk, high reward move for the Phillies. If he pitches great, they gambled and won. If he struggles, they can return left-hander Jamie Moyer to the rotation. Moyer leads the team with 10 wins, although his 5.47 ERA is the highest in the National League.
|Cy Young Award: 1997 (Expos.), 1999-2000 (Red Sox)|
|All-Star selections:1996-97 (Expos), 1998-2000, '02 (Red Sox), '05-'06 (Mets)|
|All-Star Game MVP: 1999 (Red Sox)|
Moyer, 46, has expressed his extreme displeasure with the move.
"I feel a little disheartened," Moyer said. "I feel a little bit like I've been misled. I feel like I've played this game long enough that the respect factor should be there. I'm really not happy with the decision that the Phillies have made."
Martinez said he feels for Moyer, but noted he did not make the decision. But the Phillies certainly made it because they think Martinez has enough left in his right arm to win them a few games down the stretch.
They think he is better than Moyer.
"I don't expect to be the same Pedro that I was when I was 26," Martinez said. "But I still feel like I can still bring something to the table. I still feel like this team needs a little help, very little help, and I think I can supply a little bit of it. I'm not going to say all of it, but a little bit of it."
For Martinez to help, he will need to have the control he had in his last rehab start with Double-A Reading last Wednesday, when he struck out 11 and walked none in six innings.
"I used to face him when I played for the Yankees and he was with Boston," Soriano said. "He was something else. It was like no chance. Sometimes I got a hit, and I didn't know how. I had maybe three, four against him. I was like, 'Thank God, I got one hit.' I was usually 0-for-4, 0-for-3, two strikeouts. He was very tough. He was very young, smart and had power.
"He is smarter now -- he's not a power pitcher and it's more location. He knows he has to throw the pitch. Before he could throw any pitch, any count. Now it's different because he doesn't have the same power stuff that he had before."
Where Pedro stands
|Strikeouts per nine innings: 3rd (10.081)|
|Winning percentage: 5th (.684)|
|WHIP: 6th (1.051)|
|Strikeouts: 13th (3,117)|
Martinez is 214-99 with a 2.91 ERA in his 17-year career with the Dodgers, Expos, Red Sox and Mets. He led the American League with 23 wins in 1999. He led the league in ERA in 1997, 1999, 2000, 2002 and 2003.
He won a Cy Young with the Expos in 1997. He won Cy Youngs with the Red Sox in 1999 and 2000.
"Obviously he's been one of the top pitchers in the past 20 years," Cubs right-hander Jeff Samardzija said. "That's pretty cool. It'll be exciting. Those types of things are cooler after they're already done and you look back on them. That just adds to [the series]. Things just keep piling on."
Martinez was the best, and that is why the baseball world will be watching Wednesday.
"Pedro is a pitcher who likes to compete," Mets ace Johan Santana said. "If Philadelphia is giving him an opportunity to play there, he's going to compete for sure. That's all he's looking for. He's a great friend of mine. We had a great time together in New York last year, and I hope all the best for him. He's looking for the best for him, and I believe that Philadelphia is offering him what he wants and the conditions that he wants, and he's going to have a chance to win there.
"He showed in the WBC that he was ready to go, and he wants to prove a lot of people that he still has a lot left in his tank. I believe that he's a man of his word. If he says that, he's going to compete."
"You can never count a guy like Pedro out," Mets third baseman David Wright said. "He's just got a certain competitiveness to him and a fire to him that not too many pitchers have."
Martinez is motivated. He was not healthy last season. He dealt with the death of his father. Those things, he said, hurt his performance.
He wants to prove he is better than that, but even he isn't sure what will happen. He was asked how he feels compared to Game 3 of the 2004 World Series, when he threw seven shutout innings against the Cardinals.
"You can't compare," he said. "I was in tippy top shape. I was in the World Series pitching every three days. I don't know how it feels. I can't tell you that. I'm a human being like you. That's the truth. You're trying to make a monster of me. I'm a man."
And the Phillies hope the man still has life left in his arm.
Todd Zolecki is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.