NEW YORK – He is, in his own parlance, an old goat. Pedro Martinez(notes) loves the phrase. It characterizes him just as he sees himself: careening toward the twilight of his career, yes, but with the same stubbornness and tenacity that carried him along the way. He was never, in his mind, part of the in crowd. Just a skinny Dominican kid who survived on guile and tin cans.
Something happens to great athletes as their time comes nigh: They start chewing on their legacy, and it's always a remarkable thing to see, men and women predisposed to remarkable confidence worried about what they're leaving. On the eve of his biggest start in five years – and perhaps his last – his place in history was on Pedro's mind and tongue, rolling off both in inimitable fashion.
"I'm pretty sure that my name will be mentioned," Martinez said. "I don't know in which way. But maybe after I retire, because normally when you die, people tend to actually give you props about the good things. But that's after you die.
"So I'm hoping to get it before I die."
Consider this, then, a humble homage to the most dominant pitcher of this generation and perhaps any other. Pedro will start Game 6 of the World Series on Wednesday. He will wear a Philadelphia Phillies uniform and oppose the New York Yankees' Andy Pettitte(notes), who, in conversation with Derek Jeter(notes), deemed Pedro wearing anything other than Red Sox togs "strange."
And it is. Still. This Pedro is so unlike the one from Boston who slung 98-mph darts and a changeup that still reflexively buckles the knees hundreds of retired ballplayers watching on television. This is AARPedro, older, slower, chunkier – and the Phillies' best hope to survive the season for one more day.
That's something he knows well.
"Everybody that grows up in the Dominican and didn't have a rich life is a survivor," Martinez said. "That's what we call it in the Dominican: survival. And in baseball I am a survivor. I'm someone that wasn't meant to be, and here I am."
He was meant to be, of course; lightning doesn't have time to kiss every arm in the world. The question was never about talent. It was whether the arm could last through the rigors of the major leagues, and 18 years later, here it is. Pedro sat out the season's first four months, so he's fresh enough, and he's on full rest, which is more than Pettitte can say.
Most of all, his legacy drives him, and it is damn powerful. Never mind his place on the Red Sox's 2004 championship team. Nor that he won three Cy Young awards in four years in the heart of the steroid era. His place in baseball's pantheon is cemented by 2000, the single most dominant pitching season in major league history, when his 1.74 ERA was better compared to the league average than anyone's in modern history.
Pedro, at his best, was better than anyone. Maddux. Clemens. Glavine. Johnson. Smoltz. Schilling. That's just his generation. Koufax never had a year like Pedro 2000, which sounds quite like a robot, and, yeah, sorta was. Neither did the Big Train nor Gibby nor Matty nor Doctor K.
"I'm hoping to get my name mentioned, yes, just like Babe Ruth is such a legendary name," Martinez said. "I hope that my name is mentioned. But not only as a player. I hope that you guys realize that I'm a human being that really likes to help, that really likes to do things in the community, that's a fun human being and a great competitor. That's probably my legacy.
"I don't want to just leave a legacy in baseball and be a [expletive] human being."
Cameras were rolling. Oops.
"I'm sorry about the word," he said, though he wasn't really. This is big to him, important as anything, and if he can somehow go out and shut down the Yankees and force a Game 7 as a 38-year-old throwing 88 mph and using every ounce of energy to do so, it will be the proper tour de force to send him back to the Dominican.
Because it will come at Yankee Stadium, amid the "Who's your daddy?" chants, with Derek Jeter and Alex Rodriguez(notes) and Mark Teixeira(notes) standing at the plate, surrounded by 50,000 people who secretly wish he had worn pinstripes one of those years, seen on television by millions upon millions more who may not understand that if this is it, they'll want to soak in every pitch.
For one day, they will tell their children: I saw Pedro. And even if it's only during the last start of his career, that counts. Nobody would argue with watching Babe Ruth's last at-bat or seeing Ozzie Smith take his final ground ball or witnessing Lou Gehrig doff his cap one final time. There is something to a timeless ballplayer that makes his mere presence enough.
So enjoy. Soon, Pedro will head back to the Dominican and build hospitals and schools and help rescue the impoverished. He will be a great person long after he was a great ballplayer.
First, he's got a game to pitch. The World Series is calling, and the old goat hopes he has one good bleat left in him.