Phillies are banking on Martinez’s playoff history
Ten years ago to the week – Oct. 11, 1999 – Martinez, despite a strained muscle in the back of his shoulder, came out of the bullpen and pitched six no-hit innings of relief in the deciding game of the 1999 AL division series between the Cleveland Indians and Boston Red Sox.
Few people thought Martinez could even pitch because of the injury, and if he did, he’d only go an inning or two. Instead, even though his velocity topped out at 86 miles per hour, he went the distance, allowing just one ball to be hit out of the infield by the slugging Indians. Manuel was the Indians’ hitting coach.
“I thought I knew Pedro,” teammate Mike Stanley said that night, “and I thought I knew how much heart he had. But this game I learned Pedro had more than I thought.”
Now, here is Martinez, one week before his 38th birthday, being called upon by Manuel to pitch Game 2 of the National League championship series against the Los Angeles Dodgers on Friday. Martinez was pulled from a start in Denver after last Saturday’s NLDS Game 3 was postponed because of snow. With an extra day of rest for the entire staff, Manuel opted for rookie left-hander J.A. Happ(notes), who lasted only three innings and gave up three runs. This time around, Manuel went back to Martinez instead of Happ or right-hander Joe Blanton(notes), who pitched twice out of the bullpen against the Rockies.
Martinez is worried about rust, having only pitched in a simulated situation against teammates. “I’m going to have to take that for now because there wasn’t time to do anything else,” he said Thursday.
This layoff is nothing compared to his interminable offseason. Martinez didn’t start pitching for the Phillies until August after sitting out the season’s first few months as a free agent rather than taking an unsatisfactory offer. The Phillies won his first seven starts, but after he threw 130 pitches in eight innings of a 1-0 shutout win, he injured his neck during a plate appearance in his next start.
“A rib popped out when I swung at a curveball and I didn’t know it until later when my neck got stiff from the way I turned,” he said.
Martinez didn’t pitch again until the team’s division-clinching win Sept. 30. He hasn’t pitched in the postseason since the 2004 World Series with the Red Sox. He missed almost all of the 2007 season after surgery for a torn rotator cuff, an injury he sustained, he says, after injuring his calf muscles while pitching for the Mets.
“Both of my calves were blown out,” he said. “That’s how I hurt my shoulder. I needed a complete up-and-down rehab.”
His longtime personal physical therapist, Chris Correnti, who worked for the Red Sox and is now in the Mets’ organization, supervised his rehab.
“It was really, really intense,” Martinez said of his rehab. “The most intense work I’ve ever done in my life. Two times I threw up while training and peed in my pants because I was out of control, it was so hard. I couldn’t do anything about it.
“I’ll tell you this. I wouldn’t do it again.”
Yet, the payoff is this, a return to the postseason for a pitcher who dominated the stage like no other when he was at his best.
“Petey can still pitch,” Manuel said. “He’s not the Pedro we saw in his Boston days, when he was smoking my Indians teams, back when he had an overpowering fastball, great curveball and a changeup that was off the charts.”
That Pedro is long gone. So, of course, is the Pedro who broke in with the Dodgers in 1992. This one is a lion in winter.
“I’m really glad we signed Pedro, and one of the reasons is I got to know him,” Manuel said. “He’s different from what I thought. When watching him I thought maybe he was cocky and arrogant.
“But once I got to know him, I learned how much he loves baseball. He’s a student of the game, and has a tremendous feel for it.
“And nobody competes more than Pedro. He loves the part of competing. He definitely won’t embarrass himself.”
Martinez’s opponent isn’t nearly as celebrated, but he’s packing undeniable heat. Vicente Padilla is 5-0 since signing with the Dodgers in August, including a masterful seven-inning performance in the clinching victory over the Cardinals in Game 3 of the NLDS.
Branded as a misfit, Padilla was released by the Texas Rangers. The Dodgers welcomed him and he’s responded.
“My teammates … took me as one of the family members,” he said.
Padilla pitched for the Phillies from 2000 to 2005, converting from a setup reliever to a starter and posting 14 victories two years in a row, in 2002 and 2003. He’s only faced his former team once, giving up seven runs on seven hits in June, 2008.
Yahoo! Sports national baseball writer Steve Henson contributed to this story.