BOSTON (AP) — As a Los Angeles Dodgers broadcaster, Nomar Garciaparra watched Clayton Kershaw become the dominant pitcher in the National League, winning three of the last four NL Cy Young Awards — the last one unanimously.
But when fans ask if he’s ever witnessed anyone as good as the L.A. left-hander, Garciaparra stops them cold.
“Hang on,” he says, “I got to play with Pedro Martinez.”
The former Red Sox shortstop was already in Boston when the reigning NL Cy Young winner arrived from the Montreal Expos in 1997. And he saw the Dominican right-hander win the AL award twice with the Red Sox, in back-to-back seasons in 1999-2000 that established him as one of the most dominant pitchers in baseball history.
In that two-year period — in the middle of a golden age of hitting — Martinez went 41-10 with a 1.90 ERA and 597 strikeouts. After that, all he did was anchor the staff that helped the Red Sox earn their cathartic World Series victory in 2004, ending an eight-decade drought.
Martinez went on to pitch four seasons with the New York Mets, three of them injury-plagued, and returned to the World Series with the Philadelphia Phillies in 2009 before retiring. Five years later, he is eligible for the baseball Hall of Fame and likely to be among the inductees announced Tuesday.
Like Randy Johnson, who is also making his first appearance on the ballot, Martinez is a virtual certainty to be enshrined in July; each has a chance to break Tom Seaver’s record of 98.84 percent of the ballots cast.
Also like Johnson, Martinez was an imposing presence on the mound. But while the 6-foot-10 left-hander could intimidate with his size, Martinez accomplished as much with control that allowed him to use all parts of the plate — including the inside.
When he came out of the bullpen in relief for the finale of a 1999 AL Division Series game against Cleveland, the Indians batters were visibly deflated. Martinez, who had left Game 1 with a back strain, pitched six innings of no-hit relief to finish off the series.
“I wanted to make my presence be felt,” Martinez said this summer when he returned to Boston for induction into the franchise Hall of Fame. “Every time I went out there, I wanted to make sure that you knew, that you were aware, that I wasn’t kidding out there. That this was my job. That I’m here and I’m going to be responsible for it.”
In all, Martinez finished with a 219-100 record and a 2.93 ERA. He struck out 3,154 batters and walked 760 in 2,827 innings. He twice won 20 games, twice struck out more than 300 batters and twice posted an ERA below 2.00. He was an eight-time all-star, and five times he led the major leagues in ERA.
In 1999, he went 23-4 with 313 strikeouts and a 2.07 ERA. He started the All-Star Game at Fenway park and struck out five of the six batters he faced, including fellow Hall of Fame candidates Larry Walker, Sammy Sosa, Mark McGwire and Jeff Bagwell, as well as Barry Larkin, who was inducted in 2012.
On Sept. 10 of that season, he fanned 17 New York Yankees — no one’s ever done that before or since — during a one-hitter in which he faced one batter over the minimum. (Martinez does not have an official no-hitter, though he did pitch nine perfect innings for Montreal in 1995 before giving up a double to lead off the 10th.)
After dispatching the Indians in the first round of the ’99 playoffs, Martinez pitched seven shutout innings in Game 3 of the ALCS to beat Roger Clemens and the rival Yankees. After the season, he was a unanimous choice as the league’s top pitcher and missed adding the AL MVP because two voters left him off their ballots entirely.
He won his third Cy Young award the next year, going 18-6 with a 1.74 ERA that was half of the next-best mark in the AL, Clemens’ 3.70. Martinez allowed 0.74 walks and hits per inning pitched — the fewest for a full season in baseball history.
But his pitching was perhaps secondary to the electricity he brought to Fenway, adding a multicultural flavor to a ballpark that had been famously colorless — the Red Sox were the last major-league team to integrate — in a city resistant to all forms of change.
On days he pitched, Dominican flags fluttered in the stands and fans chanted his name while banging drums to a Latin beat. The Boston Globe began running its baseball stories in Spanish alongside the English ones.
Martinez himself wasn’t above partaking in the festivities — when he wasn’t pitching. His antics during one game were so distracting that Garciaparra tied him to a dugout pole with athletic tape — saving the last piece to cover Martinez’s mouth.
“I wanted to be loose on the days I don’t pitch. In the same way, I wanted to keep my teammate loose,” said Martinez, who is now a special assistant to Red Sox general manager Ben Cherington. “The season is really long. If you don’t have fun, especially on the days you’re not performing, it’s going to be a long season out there.”