WASHINGTON -- Well, no, the New York Mets don't believe Pedro Martinez walks on water, but remember that day this spring, when Martinez was on the mound at Shea Stadium and the sprinklers inadvertently came on and gave him an impromptu shower?
Let Rick Peterson, the Mets' pitching coach, tell the rest of the story.
''Pedro told me that his hands were real dry warming up," Peterson said. ''Sure enough, there were two outs in the first inning, and all of a sudden the sprinklers come on. Pedro took that moment and gave it to the entire crowd. He stopped the game, he was playing in the sprinklers.
''When he got back to the dugout I asked, 'Hey, you said you were having trouble with moisture, did you arrange to have the sprinklers go on?'
''At the end of that night, after Pedro had pitched a great game, I was sitting in the dugout. You could see the remnants of the crowd, how this was a special moment for them. They were there doing the 'Pedro point' or the 'Pedro thrust,' whatever you want to call it. It was as if he had given them that Pedro hug, like he was there for them."
The Mets are in last place in the National League East, nine games behind the surprising first-place Washington Nationals. They are under .500 (43-44), and while general manager Omar Minaya said the Mets would be buyers before the July 31 trading deadline, they appear a long shot to make the playoffs, where they have appeared just twice since 1988, the last time when they were beaten by the Yankees in the 2000 World Series.
But while Martinez overnight has not transformed the Mets into winners, he has made them an event again, at least on the nights he pitches. He enters his final start before the All-Star break today with a 9-3 record, and among the league leaders in opponents' batting average (.184, first), strikeouts (129, first), wins (seventh), earned run average (2.80, fifth).
''I have a small apartment in Manhattan," Peterson said, ''and there's a small coffee shop I go to. On the days when Pedro pitches, the streets are buzzing. It's part of people's lives. The beauty of it is Pedro is aware of it. I had a chance to meet Bruce Springsteen once, and Pedro, like Springsteen, not only has an incredible gift, that marquee value, but he can share it in a way that makes other people feel special."
Unhappy parting Last week, when the Mets were in Washington to play the Nationals, Martinez acted surprised a reporter from Boston had come to visit.
''About me?" he said. ''What about me? Last year is over. What do you want to write about me for Boston?"
The answer, of course, is that Sox fans don't throw off their Cooperstown-bound pitchers that easily. Just as Roger Clemens is still remembered with a mixture of respect, admiration, disappointment, and a touch of bitterness, so it is for Martinez, who for seven seasons in Boston was one of the most dominating pitchers ever to wear a Sox uniform. With a record of 117-37, Martinez compiled the best winning percentage in Sox history (minimum 100 decisions), his .760 percentage almost 100 points better than runner-up Smoky Joe Wood (117-56, .676).
But last winter, Martinez signed a four-year, $53 million deal with the Mets, who were willing to give the 32-year-old righthander more years than the Sox were. The parting was not a happy one, Martinez accusing the Sox of failing to show him the respect he deserved.
Jerry Manuel was a coach in Montreal when Martinez was evolving into a star with the Expos, was the manager of the White Sox when Martinez was winning Cy Young Awards with the Red Sox, and now is first base coach for the Mets. Manuel was asked if he could understand why the Sox would have had reservations about meeting Martinez's terms.
''Looking at the pure numbers, and putting his age in there, I can understand that," Manuel said, ''but knowing Pedro, if there was ever a guy to take that chance on, he would be the guy because of the acumen. There are some guys who once they lose their great stuff they can't adjust to lesser stuff, but not him. He's just beautiful to watch. He's pitching, you take a front-row seat.
''Of course, his stuff is definitely superstar material, but now as he has come along in this, I would say, the evening of his career, the acumen is just unbelievable. The feel, the instinct, is uncanny."
There is a level of respect in Manuel's use of ''evening of his career" that was absent when former Sox GM Dan Duquette referenced the ''twilight" of Clemens's career.
A pure pitcherWhen Martinez lost to the Nationals, 3-2, last Tuesday, he topped out at 91 miles per hour. Most of his fastballs were in the 86-87-m.p.h. range, nearly 10 miles an hour slower than when Martinez was at his peak in 1999-2000. Mets manager Willie Randolph was the Yankee third base coach Sept. 10, 1999, when Martinez struck out 17 and allowed one hit in what may have been the signature game of his Boston career.
''He's no longer just a guy who's going to go out there and jazz you with his stuff," Randolph said. ''He knows how to pitch. I've watched him for years, I've watched him just dominate, but to see him pitch this year, when he's using his changeup, using his curveball, a nice little cutter, and every once in a while, he gasses you up if he has to, it's really a pleasure to watch.
''I believe in pitching in its purest form and to watch him, it's not so much a transformation really, but it's just being able to adjust and I think he's done a great job of learning how to adjust on the fly and to do what he needs to do to get the job done.
''It's not like he's reinventing himself, but he's showing a different side of himself and it's just as good to me as when he was throwing the ball by people."
Randolph had heard the stories about Martinez's preferential treatment in Boston, and had exchanged sharp words with the Sox pitcher on more than one occasion, most notably on the day of the Martinez-Don Zimmer rumble during the 2003 playoffs.
''I was confident in my approach and communicating with him," Randolph said. ''Even though we had our words, on-the-field stuff, that was no big deal, I still felt that he knew that was heat-of-the-moment pressure stuff. . . . I'm not going to say I've got some formula for it, but so far things have been very good and he's been great."
Special -- to a point As he did in Boston, Martinez often arrives at the ballpark long after his teammates -- he made it to Yankee Stadium a little more than an hour before his start there, his driver having gotten lost twice on the way -- and it should not have surprised Sox followers that he bowed out of the All-Star Game, even though Tuesday would have been his scheduled day to throw, even though he'd initially said he wanted to go because he figured it was important to the organization.
But so far, the Mets seem more than willing to cut Martinez whatever slack he needs. Mets public relations man Jay Horwitz hovers over him unlike any Mets player past or present, according to longtime Mets reporters, shielding him from unwanted intrusions.
''Yeah, the [Curt] Schillings, the [Randy] Johnsons, they deserve that diva treatment or whatever, if you will," Randolph said. ''You just have to make sure you keep it under control."
Last September, when the Sox were in Florida to play the Devil Rays and Martinez was upset about a number of things, including the fact that the team had decided Schilling would pitch the playoff opener, Sox pitching coach Dave Wallace called Guy Conti, who was Martinez's first manager in the minor leagues, and asked him to come speak with the pitcher. That's the kind of respect Martinez still retains for Conti, now the Mets' bullpen coach.
''I told Wally I might not get there until 6:30 for a 7 o'clock game," Conti said. ''Wally said, 'Don't worry, you'll probably beat Pedro here.' I went there and we talked a little bit, I calmed him down.
''That was the game he threw seven changeups in a row. He was making a point.
''He's one of those guys that comes around only every so often. What he's done in New York is phenomenal. He's won the whole city over, you know."
Heath Bell is in his first full season with the Mets. He got to know Martinez before the start of spring training, when Martinez arrived early and needed a partner for long toss.
''He loves to help out the younger guys," Bell said. ''I think he loves it just as much as pitching.
''When we're at home, there's a little clan out there [in Shea] that wear the jheri curl wigs. They're big Pedro guys. It's a different atmosphere when he pitches."
Moving onOn the morning of the Mets' last game in D.C., Martinez sat down in front of his locker. Yes, he said, he stays in touch with some of his former colleagues. He calls physical therapist Chris Correnti regularly, and talked a couple of times to Keith Foulke, once calling him to tell him something he noticed about the closer's mechanics. He was not surprised to hear about Foulke's knee surgery. ''His knees and his back have been bothering him for a long time," Martinez said. ''It's better for him to get healthy now and come back to help the team.
''I miss Boston," he said. ''I miss my teammates. I miss the fans. I miss the city, especially the place where I lived."
But he has moved on. He bought a home in suburban Westchester, which he discovered after landing in the airport there in a private plane.
''It's good, real good," he said, ''Like always, with a big garden. I saw this house and I thought, 'Where are we, New Jersey?' It's about 30 minutes from the park."
The atmosphere at Shea Stadium, he said, is different than it was in Yankee Stadium, where, of course, he was always venturing into hostile territory.
''I haven't seen the same intensity that you see at Yankee Stadium, especially when you play for the Red Sox," he said. ''It's just totally different."
Having won a World Series ring last season, a goal he identified as the only one worth achieving, Martinez was asked if he was having trouble adjusting to playing for a last-place team.
''I kind of have a hard time," he said, ''but you know what, we're not playing bad, and that's what I realize. We haven't played together yet for a long time. I don't know if you remember when Orlando [Cabrera] and those guys got traded to our team, our team struggled for the first three weeks or so, and that's with a whole bunch of veteran players that know what to do.
''This team, I think next year is going to be our year, when they start playing together and they get to know what to do, this is a team that's built for the future. Maybe we can make a push this year. I don't know if we're going to make it, but we have to stay healthy first, we need to actually get these guys to mature a little, which may happen sooner than you think."
If so, Martinez may experience another impromptu shower, this time bathing not in Shea sprinklers, but, as he did last October in St. Louis, in champagne.