In the late 1990s, no pitcher in baseball was as dominant as Pedro Martinez was for the Boston Red Sox. Other starters of that era—Greg Maddux and Tom Glavine—had longer careers. Other teams—notably the New York Yankees—were better. But from 1997-2000, no one could dominate like the ace of the Red Sox staff and Pedro Martinez 1999 season was one for the ages.
1999 was the peak of Pedro’s power. Martinez went 23-4 with a 2.07 ERA pitching not only to steroid juiced-up batters, but in Fenway Park and to stacked AL East lineups. He logged 213 innings and struck out an amazing 313 hitters. And the signature moment didn’t even come in a regular season game.
The All-Star Game came to Fenway Park in 1999. An emotional scene of Ted Williams coming out in a wheelchair and being greeted by the modern day greats set the stage. Then Pedro took the mound. Barry Larkin, an MVP shortstop for the Cincinnati Reds led off. Pedro struck him out. Larry Walker, a batting champion with the Colorado Rockies followed. Pedro struck him out. Then the Chicago Cubs’ Sammy Sosa, one of the great power hitters of the PED era came up…Pedro struck him out.
The second inning was led off by Mark McGwire from the St. Louis Cardinals, one of only two men (with San Francisco’s Barry Bonds) who could trump Sosa for both home runs and PED injections. McGwire whiffed against Pedro. Martinez was one strikeout away from an All-Star game record.
Pedro didn’t get the fifth K in succession, as Giant third baseman Matt Williams put it in play and reached on an error. But it set up a dramatic end to the inning. Facing another batter with an MVP award in his trophy case—the Houston Astros’ Jeff Bagwell—Pedro got a fifth K, and Williams was thrown out trying to steal.
Five strikeouts in two innings, in front of his own fans and following the Williams’ tribute was the defining moment of the regular season, even if it didn’t officially count. It was enough for a unanimous Cy Young pick and would have made him the MVP–he carried an otherwise mediocre Boston staff to the best cumulative ERA in the league–if not for two agenda-driven writers who refused to name him on their ballots at all.
And it turned out the best was still to come in the playoffs. In spite of nursing a shoulder injury, Pedro came out of the bullpen in Game 5 of the Division Series against the Cleveland Indians. The game was a slugfest, at 8-8 after three innings. Pedro tossed six no-hit innings and the Red Sox won.
He then got their only win of the American League Championship Series against the Yankees, leading Boston to a 13-1 rout of Roger Clemens in Game 3. The Pedro Martinez 1999 season was one of the truly great pitching performances of the modern era and should have been recognized as an MVP year.