CINCINNATI - Working with a fastball that was past its prime, Pedro Martínez made a vintage comeback.
Back on the mound for the first time in almost a year, the righthander got his 3,000th career strikeout yesterday and led the resurgent New York Mets to a 10-4 win over the Cincinnati Reds.
A victory and a little bit of history, too.
"Can't ask for anything better than that," New York manager Willie Randolph said. "He's amazing. I shouldn't even be surprised, really. Pedro was superb."
Martínez (1-0) had major shoulder surgery last Oct. 5. He returned after just four rehabilitation appearances in the minors, leaving some questions about his readiness. The Mets decided to put him on a 75-pitch limit that left him no margin for error to get through five innings and get a win.
Somehow, he managed.
Martínez threw 76 pitches while limiting the Reds to three runs and five hits in five innings. Four of his pitches came on an intentional walk. With two runners aboard in the fifth, Martínez got Adam Dunn - the last batter he'd get to face - to hit into a rally-killing groundout.
Then, he pumped his fist.
"Indescribable," the three-time Cy Young winner said. "So far, so good. It was good enough. I did what I was supposed to do. I got 75 pitches in. I gave my team an opportunity.
"I felt I settled down after the first inning and got everything in control again."
His performance helped the NL East leaders get control of their division again, increasing their lead to five games over Philadelphia.
"That's Pedro, and he's going to get better," catcher Paul Lo Duca said.
Even though the Reds didn't do much against Martínez, they thought he had a long way to go.
"He didn't look like he had his old stuff, and I wouldn't expect him to," said first baseman Scott Hatteberg, who was his 2,999th strikeout victim.
"He has a long way to go to get back to his old stuff.
"He had just electric stuff, with a 94-mile-per-hour fastball and sharp, breaking curve. He may get there, but he isn't close now. It's obvious he knows how to pitch."
Martínez fanned Aaron Harang in the second inning to become the 15th pitcher with 3,000 career strikeouts.