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Let the Show Begin
October 12, 2009
The return of Pedro Martinez to the playoff stage adds spice—and mystery—to an already intriguing first round of matchups
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October 12, 2009

Let The Show Begin

The return of Pedro Martinez to the playoff stage adds spice—and mystery—to an already intriguing first round of matchups

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As a small group of Philadelphia players loosened their arms in rightfield at Citizens Bank Park late last week, a middle-aged man in a Phillies hat and jacket, a baseball glove on his left hand, sat nearby, halfway up an otherwise empty section of field-level seats. The man jumped up, threw his arms over his head and sat back down. With great glee, he waited a few beats before repeating the exercise. The sight gag, the one-man wave, cracked up everyone, mostly because the jokester happened to be a three-time Cy Young Award winner, maybe the most dominant pitcher of his era. ¶ Ladies and gentlemen, Pedro the Entertainer is back. Over the past two decades, no one has commanded a baseball audience quite like Pedro Jaime Martinez, whose pitching style and personal showmanship have made every mound a stage. Martinez has fascinated as much as he has dominated, a conundrum in spikes who was a premier power pitcher in a junior varsity body, a ferocious headhunter (or so his critics wailed) who loves gardening, a ruthless king of the hill who played the clubhouse jester with equal aplomb. Put a baseball celebrity like Pedro under the spotlight of the postseason and, well, you were treated to one of the great spectacles of the modern era, performance art that was equal parts mastery and mischief.

Now, for the first October in five years, it is must-watch time again. After sitting out the first four months of this season—tending to his recently widowed mother in the Dominican Republic, building her a garden, restoring his injury-weakened body and watching weekend baseball while bobbing on his boat in the Caribbean—Martinez established himself in nine starts as an important contributor to the pitching-starved defending World Series champs. The Phillies won eight of those nine starts, while Martinez pitched to a 3.63 ERA.

No longer an ace, yet still effectively beguiling, Martinez, who turns 38 this month, has presented Philadelphia manager Charlie Manuel with several possible ways to deploy him in the postseason. His most obvious place would be as the club's Game 3 or 4 starter in Colorado this weekend, though the prospect of turning him into a late-inning weapon, even an emergency closer, is tantalizing as well. Of the eight playoff teams' bullpens, none is more unsettled than the Phillies'.

Manuel is not dismissive of bringing Martinez out of the pen. "We'll go with our best pitchers, however we use them," he said last week. "He's a guy you trust. The only thing I would have to do with him is give him plenty of time to warm up if he's coming in out of the bullpen."

"I'll do anything they want me to do," Martinez says. "I was hoping for this opportunity, and I'm very grateful for it. It's kind of a wish come true. This is I'm sure how my dad wanted it for me."

Martinez's father, Pablo Jaime, developed brain cancer in 2008 during the last of Martinez's four years with the Mets, a tenure marked by injuries and unfulfilled expectations: Pedro won 32 games while earning $53 million. A frail Pablo told his son during one visit in July 2008, that he wanted him to continue playing baseball. Pedro flew back to rejoin the Mets. Three days later, his father was dead. "Those were his last words to me," Martinez says. "Today it's all for him and his wishes."

Carrying on without his father while comforting his mother, Leopoldina, Martinez says, "I became a man last year—a true man."

Martinez wanted another shot at the postseason, preferably in the National League, and figured he would return to the Mets. "They said I should take a [Tom] Glavine kind of contract," he said, referring to the minor league deal Glavine signed with the Braves last off-season. "At least I pitched last year, even though I did [poorly]. I felt like at least I deserved a big league contract."

The Indians, Dodgers, Cubs and Rangers each made inquiries about Martinez during the summer but never made a big league offer. Martinez kept his arm in shape by throwing long toss with a softball for an hour three times a week. "From my experience, I knew somebody would need pitching in the middle of the season," he says.

The Phillies were that team. They sent special assistant Charley Kerfeld to scout Martinez, then signed him to a contract that will pay him about $1.4 million, including bonuses, for his two months of work. Martinez, freshened from the respite, returned with his best velocity since 2004, his final year with the Red Sox. His body recovered from starts so well that he felt loose and limber enough to throw long toss the day after his starts; he said his body hadn't bounced back like that since 2001.

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