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One wonderful seven-year pitch

Spellbinding Martinez may end wicked run today

Seven years of Pedro. Went by quickly, huh?

Seven years, the best of which may very well have been the best pitching ever done in a Boston uniform. Seven years of feistiness. Seven years of blazing fastballs. Seven years of spellbinding changeups. Seven years of pitching inside, sometimes waaaaay inside. Seven years of double-digit strikeouts. Seven years of sheer virtuosity. Seven years, and in a very short period of time, we will be wishing that we could have seven more years.

Amid all the other ramifications of today's Game 5, this could very well be the last time you'll see Pedro Martinez in a Red Sox uniform.Just in case you haven't been giving this matter your full attention, Pedro's contract expires at the conclusion of the season. He will become a free agent. He will, as they say, "test the waters" to gauge the level of interest teams have in him. It is not inconceivable that he would remain in Boston. It has been a very workable marriage. But it is more likely that someone will outbid the Red Sox, and that Pedro would accept that offer, then set out demonstrating to the Sox that they have undervalued him.

Petey does have his vanity moments, you know.

When you've been as good as Pedro has been the last eight years, you've earned the right to be a bit vain. Beginning in 1997, he began to elevate himself into a special pitching category.

Entering the 1997 season, Pedro Martinez was, at age 25, a good-but-not great National League pitcher. The Dodgers had given up on him following the 1993 season, dealing him to the Expos for second baseman Delino DeShields. The story that has persisted ever since was that Tom Lasorda believed he was too small to be an effective starting pitcher in the major leagues.

With the Expos, Pedro went 11-5, 14-10, and 13-10 in his first three years. His earned run averages ranged from 3.42 to 3.71 and his strikeout/walk splits were reasonably impressive. But no one was quite prepared for the Pedro Martinez the NL was confronted with in '97.

That was the year Martinez took up residence on pitching's Mount Olympus. Pitching for a poor team, Pedro went 17-8, leading the league with a 1.90 ERA. He fanned 305 while walking just 67. He led the league in complete games with 13. He was given the Cy Young Award, and to this day his 17 wins remain the smallest victory total of any nonreliever Cy Young winner. And, lucky for him, the Expos couldn't afford to pay up. He was traded to the Red Sox.

I think we'd all agree that's worked out pretty well. Let's see. Two 20-win seasons . . . four ERA titles . . . three strikeout titles . . . two Cy Youngs. A 117-37 career Red Sox record, which is, quite frankly, sick. Yeah, I'd say it's worked out pretty well, and that's without even discussing the playoff heroics in 1999.

Back in '98-'99-'00, when Pedro was doing everything from winning 23 games to posting a 1.74 ERA to whiffing 313 batters, Pedro was the best pitcher in baseball. There may have been a few Randy Johnson supporters, but most people who followed baseball closely acknowledged that back at the turn of the century Pedro Martinez was indeed The Man.

But people were also asking themselves, "How does he do it?" The guy was, after all, about 5 feet 11 inches and he couldn't have weighed more than 170. Yet he could get his fastball up in the high 90s. At his peak, his repertoire featured a 97-98 m.p.h. fastball, a slider, a curve, and an absolute killer of a changeup, all of which came together one September Friday night in 1999 when he went into Yankee Stadium and threw a game that was so over-the-top, so breathtaking, so downright outrageous that David Cone proclaimed it "the best-pitched game I've ever seen, including my own perfect game."

I'm speaking of his 1-hit, 17-strikeout game, of course. This game was so devastating that it didn't seem to matter that the lone hit was a homer by Chili Davis. Martinez doesn't have that in him anymore. He may have one or two 97s in him, no more. He doesn't locate the ball as consistently as he did in those days. There are nights, and days, when he is only pretty good, not great. He was "only" 16-9 this year, and his 3.90 ERA was the highest of his 12-year big league career. Gone are the days when his ERA was a run, or even a run and a half, lower than the league average.

He is still a highly valuable pitcher. The trick is to come up with a fair price for the Pedro of today. He knows he will never again command a salary close to the $17.5 million he's getting now. But he has his pride (and then some). He will not want to be "insulted," and you can bet that is what he'll say about whatever it is the Red Sox offer him. We all know how these things work. No one knows what he's really worth more than the team that has seen him pitch this year. But someone else almost undoubtedly will overpay him, and that team doesn't have to be the Yankees, either.

I want him back. You probably want him back. But there will be no plebiscite. All we can do is watch from afar. And were I you, I'd start preparing for LAP; you know, Life After Pedro. 

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