By Mike Steffanos
Watching Pedro Martinez get hurt in his first start of the season was depressing on several levels for me. As with so many Mets fan, Pedro holds a special place in my heart because his decision to sign with the Mets immediately gave juice to a franchise that badly needed an infusion of excitement. The Mets had been bad for a long time by the winter of 2005. The club had faded miserably down the stretch of the previous season after making the ill-advised Scott Kazmir deal to prop up their slim playoff hopes.
That trade, and the almost universal negative reaction to it, seemed to solidify the image of the Mets as a hopelessly bumbling organization. I remember after the season wondering what could possibly change things in Flushing. Sure, David Wright had a nice debut, but Jose Reyes and Cliff Floyd couldn't stay on the field, Mike Piazza was in obvious decline, and the Mets "commitment to youth" hadn't even survived the first trade deadline.
When I heard the Mets under new GM Omar Minaya were courting Martinez after the season I laughed. Why would Pedro consider coming here? The Mets were unable to convince even such modest free agents as Craig Counsell that the Mets would become relevant again anytime soon. When, despite all odds, Pedro did elect to come here, he changed things in a fundamental way that even the later Beltran signing -- probably only possible because of Pedro's -- didn't. Suddenly the Mets had a little buzz and excitement, and those who had written off the Mets at least began to take some notice.
In 2005, Pedro made 31 starts, and every single one of them was an event. That was Glavine's best year as a Met, but he never captured the hearts of fans in the way Pedro did. In retrospect, that club still had a lot of holes. The bullpen was only fair, with Looper as the closer and Mr. Koo, Mike DeJean, Manny Aybar and Danny Graves starting more fires than the few they were able to douse. We endured 16 starts from Kaz Ishii. Piazza was a shell of his former greatness. Doug Mientkiewicz was awful. Miguel Cairo somehow had 327 AB with a batting line of .251/.296/.324, mostly because Kaz Matsui continued to flop. Eric Valent, 2004's feel-good story, came crashing back to earth with a thud. The 2005 Mets were a team of non-greatness.
Yet every time Pedro took the mound that spring and summer, that team was transformed. The stadium was electric, watching in rapt attention as a master showman plied his trade on the mound. If he wasn't quite the Pedro of old, he was pretty damned good. The 2005 Mets would ultimately fade at the end of the season again, although not quite as bad as the previous year, and finish third. Pedro posted a 15-8 record for that mediocre club, robbed of several deserved wins by that bullpen. His ERA of 2.82 was fourth among NL starters. His hits allowed per nine innings pitched was second. He pitched 217 innings, too, something we're unlikely to see his even come close to ever again.
2006 and 2007 were not great years for Pedro. He only took the mound 23 and 5 times, respectively. Now he's on the DL again only 3.2 innings into the season. Inevitably you start seeing items that question whether signing Pedro was a "good decision".
Please, spare me.
From a completely dispassionate business perspective, it's hard to justify the $14 million per season Pedro made in 2006 and 2007. Maybe that turns out to be the case with the $11 million that he'll earn this season. But anyone who questions whether this was money well spent has a short memory. Shea Stadium had all the energy of a graveyard in 2003 and the final month of 2004. The Mets were the joke of the league, only Mets fans weren't laughing.
Omar Minaya hasn't had a perfect record in making deals these past couple of winters, but his decision to pursue and sign Martinez in the early days of his tenure was exactly right -- even if Pedro doesn't pitch another game for the Mets. It's hard to go back through the four decades of Mets history I have observed and think of a single player who came here and changed so much so fast. There are things (and pitchers) that just transcend cold-blooded cost-benefit analysis.
For a small market club, Pedro's contract wouldn't have made any sense. For a large market club that was already successful, like the Red Sox, Pedro was a bad gamble. For a team like the Mets who were badly in need of a complete karma makeover, Pedro was just what the doctor ordered.
Certainly the Mets will have a tough decision to make next off-season about whether they bring Pedro back and if so, under what terms. If Pedro can't stay healthy and pitch effectively the question is probably moot. I wonder if under that scenario the Mets make another, stronger attempt to re-sign Oliver Perez long-term. We don't know what the future holds, but I for one can only hope that there will be more Saint Pedro days to celebrate before his time here comes to a close. Even a diminished Pedro still has that magic.