Martinez, the first Nicaraguan to play in the majors, made a career of meeting challenges. Formidable among them was his battle with alcoholism, which he traces back to a shot of rum he downed just before pitching in a semipro game in Managua at age 15 and which led him into a rehabilitation center in the winter of 1983. Were it not for his drinking, Martinez, who finished with a 241-187 record, would be a cinch Hall of Famer. Between '83 and '86 he went 29-42 as he struggled to overcome his addiction. "When I got out of rehab all I could think of every day was how to not have a drink so I could stay alive," says Martinez, whose alcoholic father was killed while driving drunk in '82.
In 1987, the year after he wept at being traded from the Orioles to the Expos, Martinez resurrected his career and became an even better pitcher than he'd been during his early years as a consistent 15-game winner with Baltimore. Outsmarting hitters with two types of fastballs, two changeups and superb control, he was one of baseball's most entertaining and effective pitchers. In '90 he became, at 35, the oldest player to make an All-Star team for the first time. On July 28, 1991, he set down 27 straight Los Angeles Dodgers to become the second-oldest major leaguer to throw a perfect game. Revered in his native land, Martinez dined with then Nicaraguan president Violeta Barrios de Chamorro to celebrate the perfecto.
In 1995 there was serious talk in Nicaragua of the intelligent and patriotic Martinez running for president himself. But he was busy dominating hitters for the Indians, who had acquired him in '93. Last year a strained tendon forced Martinez to miss most of the second half of the season, and when the Indians let him go, detractors said he was through. Though Martinez went 1-5 in nine starts for the Mariners this year, he did have a few good outings, including that last, satisfying win. "I'm going out with my head up," says Martinez. "I don't know if I'll make the Hall of Fame, but I think I deserve it. People may say I won't get in. I like to prove people wrong."
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