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A brief appreciation of Pedro

Posted by Chad Finn, Globe Staff  October 5, 2010 06:02 PM

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finnpedro1.jpgAs opposed to our usual rambling appreciations of the most mesmerizing, proud, gifted, charismatic, tough, egotistical, bright, breathtaking, occasionally petty and relentlessly competitive pitcher we've ever had the privilege of watching perform . . .

Hell, yes, I still admire Pedro. Of course I do. Always will, too. How could you not -- can you not -- if you were a true Sox fan when it all went down? I still miss watching him pitch every fifth day, still miss the anticipation and electricity around Fenway those crackling July nights when it was his turn on the mound. It made up for all of the Rapps and Portugals and Castillos who littered the mound before and after. When Pedro pitched, anything seemed possible. Hell, yes, I still miss it.

His heyday was unlike anything we had ever seen, and we were fortunate enough to see Roger Clemens in his genuinely dominating, pre-McNamee prime not so many years before. We though the Rocket was the finest pitcher we'd ever see in a Sox uniform. We were sure of it.

And within the same decade as his departure and heel turn, Pedro relegated him to a distant No. 2 in that rotation. In his seven seasons with the Sox (1998-2004), he won 117 games, lost 37 for a clinically insane .760 winning percentage, had an ERA of 2.52, and his WHIP of 0.978 meant he allowed fewer than one baserunner per inning . . . during the steroid era.

His career adjusted ERA is 154, second all-time only to a certain ageless closer with the Yankees whose arm is apparently built with some of the same parts you'd find in the engine of a vintage Porsche. Mariano No. 1, Pedro No. 2? Not going to argue with that. Seems about right to me. As for this Jim Devlin guy at No. 3, we can only assume he must have been as awesome as his mustache.

* * *

Game 7-20.jpg

Look at those jackals. That clown probably thinks that's a No. 55 jersey he's flapping.

I loath using that picture, but the story -- even an abridged and scatter-shot recollection such as this -- is incomplete without it. It is of course from his lonesome walk off the mound during the eighth inning of Game 7 of the 2003 ALCS after he'd been set up to fail by a manager who trusted neither his setup men nor the truth in the statistics that should have told him, had he bothered to check, that Pedro essentially turned into his sore-armed older brother Ramon after 105 pitches and . . .

Well, I rehashed that much more than I wanted to. But it gets to the point we're aiming for here; the flashbacks to that time do come laced with frustration of that different place and time. And it was different then. Not better. In many ways -- particularly the championship tally -- it was worse. Just different. The hatred and envy of the Yankees was palpable and real; you felt it physically, a recurring twinge in your stomach. The late-90s Yankees were a wonderfully constructed team. The Red Sox? It was Pedro and Nomar Against the World, with secondary contributions from the Valentins, Lowes, Wakefield, O'Learys and Variteks. They were admirable. And they were overmatched.

The peak, pre-2004, was Pedro one-upping Clemens in the '99 ALCS in which the Sox won a single game. Sort of pathetic when you think about it from a Sox fan's current perspective. And the valley? You see the photo.

Which made winning it all, in that storybook way, all the sweeter. At last, a meaningful, cathartic celebration on the Yankee Stadium lawn. Then, a few unforgettable days later, re-enacting the party in St. Louis.

There's another photo, a favorite of so many everlasting images from that World Series in the Kodak Carousel in our mind, of Pedro pointing skyward as he walked off the Busch Stadium mound after pitching seven shutout innings in Game 3. You can practically see the relief on his face. Look. It's masked ever so slightly by the joy.

It was his final act as a pitcher for the Boston Red Sox. One night later, he was a champion. For those of us watching with welling eyes and an overwhelming feeling of redemption, it was worth all the frustration that came before.

Something tells me Pedro would say the same.

* * *

pedropointfinn.jpgI probably don't need to remind you of any of this -- I imagine you'll be watching "Four Days in October" tonight just as I will -- but Pedro's Boston days sure are fun to reminisce about, no? Especially since we know the ending.

We've actually been hearing from Pedro a lot lately, not only amid the highlights and memories of "Four Days in October," which, for all of my caterwauling about Lenny Clarke's involvement, is absolutely done right. You'll laugh, you'll cry, and you'll remember why you should never boo Johnny Damon.

It's not his only recent starring role. Rising above the ubiquitous eggheads and egotists that pock Ken Burns's otherwise excellent "The 10th Inning," Pedro is the standout among all talking heads. (As I wrote in last week's media column, Howard Bryant is also terrific.)

Pedro's bright-eyed candor and insight -- he's remarkably articulate and nuanced speaking in his second language -- about so many baseball issues in the past two decades, from pitching for the doomed Expos to ruling from the mound during the Steroid Era to, yes, winning with the Red Sox, is the next-best part of the "10th Inning" to the photos and highlights Burns has culled.

Pedro presence in these two prominent and current baseball films was the original inspiration for writing about him here. It was one particular Pedro quote, actually, one he said during the "10th Inning." The words, slightly paraphrased here, were familiar if you've been paying attention to him for the last half-dozen years. It is always pleasant to hear him say them again:

"I tell you, I wouldn't trade winning one World Championship in Boston to winning three somewhere else."

Only an incurable cynic would doubt Pedro's sincerity. After watching "30 for 30," you'll have one more cherished reminder of why it meant so much to him, and us.

About Touching All The Bases

Irreverence and insight from Chad Finn, a Globe/Boston.com sports writer and media columnist. A winner of several national and regional writing awards, he is the founder and sole contributor to the TATB blog, which launched in December 2004. Yes, he realizes how lucky he is.

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