Not to be confused with an unrelated, less talented Pedro Martinez who pitched for various teams in the mid-1990s, the brother of one-time Dodgers hurler Ramon Martinez emerged from his sibling’s shadow after a trade for Delino DeShields sent him from Los Angeles to Montreal at the end of 1993. North of the border, this Pedro established himself as a major talent with a Cy Young award-winning season in 1997, going 17-8 with a major-league-best 1.90 ERA, 305 strikeouts, and a league-leading 13 complete games, all despite being bothered by a strained ligament in his right thumb. He held NL batters to a .184 batting average and was the first ERA leader with 300 strikeouts since Steve Carlton turned the trick in 1972. Two years later, he won another Cy Young Award with the Boston Red Sox.
Martinez was brilliant working out of the bullpen for the Dodgers in his first full season in 1993. He appeared in a Dodger rookie-record 65 games, placing third among National League rookies with 10 wins (which also led all NL relievers) and 119 strikeouts. When he relieved his brother, Ramon, in his first appearance of the season, it was the first time since Rick and Mickey Mahler both took the mound with the Atlanta Braves in 1979 that two brothers had pitched for the same team in the same game.
But the Dodgers, who needed a second baseman and a leadoff hitter, felt the wiry hurler wasn’t durable enough to become a top-flight starter, so they sent Martinez to Montreal for DeShields. It was the worst trade Los Angeles had made in a long time. After winning 11 games in 1994, Martinez emerged as the ace of a young Expos squad after Ken Hill was traded to St. Louis before the start of the 1995 season, leading the club with 14 wins and 174 strikeouts — both fifth in the league — and holding opposing batters to a .227 average. On June 3, he was perfect for nine innings against the Padres in San Diego, but lost the perfect game when Bip Roberts led off the 10th with a double.
During his early years in Montreal, Martinez also gained a reputation as a headhunter. In his 23 starts in 1994, “Senor Plunk” was ejected 12 times and participated in three fights, including one precipitated by Cincinnati’s Reggie Sanders when he was hit in the arm by a Martinez fastball. The plunking came with one out in the eighth inning — Martinez had been working on a perfect game. In 1995, Pedro hit 11 batters and received three warnings — plus a $500 fine for pelting Houston’s Luis Gonzalez. Martinez denied that he targeted opposing batters, instead maintaining that his tiring arm would sometimes cause fastballs to sail away wildly.
In 1996, the painfully thin Martinez struck out 222 batters, and was selected to the All-Star team. But he won only 13 games, primarily because the Expos scored just 22 runs in his 10 losses. Mounting frustration may have gotten to the temperamental pitcher in late September, when he was suspended for eight games for charging the mound after the Phillies’ Mike Williams threw at him twice in retaliation for beaning Philadelphia outfielder Gregg Jefferies.
The Expos’ anemic bats didn’t stop Martinez from winning eight in a row to start the 1997 season, becoming the first Montreal pitcher to achieve the feat since Tim Burke won his first eight decisions in 1995. By mid-season he was 10-4 with a 1.74 ERA and was named to his second consecutive All-Star team. But by the end of the season, speculation was rife that the cash-strapped Expos were looking to trade him before he left as a free agent. Certainly his value rose when he won the Cy Young Award, which he dedicated to fellow Dominican Juan Marichal, who never won the coveted award despite six twenty-win seasons.
Martinez was indeed traded before the 1998 season — to the Boston Red Sox, who needed an ace to replace the departed Roger Clemens, who had signed with the Toronto Blue Jays. Upon arrival, Martinez was quickly inked to a six-year, $75 million deal. A large contingent of Dominican fans packed Fenway Park for Martinez’s debut and saw their hero hold the Seattle Mariners to two hits and no runs. Despite a fine season (19-7, 2.89, 251 strikeouts) in which he led the Red Sox to a wild card berth in the playoffs, Martinez fell short in the Cy Young Award balloting to Clemens, who garnered all 28 first-place votes.
For an encore, Martinez turned in one of the most dominating seasons ever enjoyed by a major-league pitcher. As ERAs and batting averages soared around the league, Martinez defied the offensive surge with a 23-4 record, 313 strikeouts, and a miniscule 2.07 ERA. On pace to win 30 games in the first half, the law of averages and a late-season stint on the DL stopped him from reaching the magic plateau. Nevertheless, he won his second Cy Young Award (joining Ferguson Jenkins and Randy Johnson as the only pitchers to win in both leagues) and finished second in the MVP balloting to Rangers catcher Ivan Rodriguez.
Martinez’s best work came in the spotlight. In the All-Star Game, Martinez retired all six batters he faced, striking out five and taking home MVP honors. The highlight of the season was a 3-1 complete-game victory over the Yankees on August 10. Facing the defending (and eventual) world champs, Martinez allowed only one hit and struck out 17. After the game, some observers called it the best game ever pitched at Yankee Stadium.
However, Martinez’s back strain limited his availability in the playoffs. In Game One of the Division Series against the Cleveland Indians, he was limited to four innings, and Boston lost by one run after the bullpen blew a 2-0 lead. Martinez didn’t appear again until the deciding Game Five, when he relieved a battered Bret Saberhagen in the fourth inning with the score tied 8-8. Pedro threw six hitless innings as Boston took the series with a 12-8 victory. But Martinez was only able to make one start in the ALCS. It proved to be the only game the Red Sox would win, as the Yankees took the series 4-1.