Loss of Pedro, Loss of Faith

The defection of Boston's ace shakes the Red Sox faithful

Living in Boston as a Red Sox fan for the last year has been like riding a rollercoaster of epic proportions. Beginning with Boston’s 6-5, extra-inning ,heartbreaking defeat in Yankee Stadium in Game 7 of the 2003 ALCS, the age-old rivalry seems to intensify with every month, every week, every day, every hour. One team strikes, and the other team responds, and winning isn’t even as important as crushing the opposition.

On that crisp, Oct. 16 day, I remember sitting in Yankee Stadium, watching the Red Sox winning, 5-2, in the middle of the eighth inning. I specifically remember sitting there and thinking, “This is it. I’m going to be here when the Sox finally beat the hated Yanks and go on to the World Series.”

Of course, you know the story—my favorite baseball player ever, one Pedro Jaime Martinez, ended up letting the tying runs score in the eighth inning before Aaron Boone rocketed a shot into the October sky, as the clock crept towards midnight, to defeat my beloved Red Sox and send the Yankees to the World Series and the Yankee fans into hysteria yet again.

The Red Sox responded with an offseason almost solely focused on crushing the Yankees. They went out and acquired Curt Schilling from the Diamondbacks, perhaps because they had heard that he wanted to be traded to only the Yankees and that George Steinbrenner, of course, lusted after åhim. Theo Epstein was able to put together a package to acquire Schilling, and his next move waså to attempt to acquire Alex Rodriguez from the Texas Rangers and rid himself of the albatross of a contract that the Red Sox owed to Manny Ramirez.

Despite a long and public courtship, the deal fell apart and the Yankees swept in at the 11th hour and were able to pry Rodriguez away from the Rangers in exchange for second baseman Alfonso Soriano.

Last offseason seems to have ended up working out better for the Red Sox at the end of the day, because—as everyone knows, and as Dan Shaughnessy won’t let anyone forget—the Red Sox ‘reversed’ his made-up ‘curse,’ just I predicted they would back in April of this year, because of the duo of Schilling and Martinez, backed by a strong order.

Yet as I sit here writing this, Pedro Martinez has declared he is leaving the Boston Red Sox to go to the New York Mets, and the Red Sox seem to have lost big in this winter’s hot-stove pitching derby. It was reported by numerous sources all along that the three pitchers on whom the Red Sox had their eyes were Pedro Martinez, Carl Pavano, and Brad Radke.

Radke, in the end, decided not to leave the Twins despite a somewhat better contract from the Red Sox, and Pavano seems to have decided to change course and sign with the Yankees, despite the fact that he appeared set on the Red Sox at first.

Now Pedro has signed with the Mets because of a seemingly ludicrous offer from first-year GM Omar Minaya, and I am having a lot of trouble rationalizing it.

Where is the loyalty I once knew in sports? Two of my hometown teams have won championships in the last year. I should be happy, right? But in some ways, I long for the days when the Sox were still fighting against a stronger Yankees team back in 1999, with Pedro Martinez blazing fastballs and dazzling opposing hitters with his knee-buckling breaking balls.

Of course, I loved seeing the Red Sox win the World Series this year. It was unbelievable, without being as anticlimactic as so many pundits had suggested it would be.

But excuse me if I get a little sick to my stomach when Curt Schilling swaggers into Boston in 2004 with all the bravado of a Roman Emperor. Commercials aired all over Boston about Schilling’s desire to come to the city and “end the 86-year-old curse,” and he seemingly proclaimed himself a team leader from day one.

Reports abounded from the start that Martinez was jealous of Schilling and that, when he was relegated to being the No. 2 starter in the playoffs, he was cordial and he pitched well, but he never forgot the perceived slight from his manager, Terry Francona, who appeared to have been brought to Boston because of his relationship with Schilling.

Now it seems that Martinez has had the last laugh, as he has decided to accept the Mets’ offer of a four-year contract of around $50 million, as he apparently strung the Red Sox into believing he would accept their offer if they just negotiated for long enough.

Perhaps Martinez really did feel slighted by Schilling and the Red Sox brass’ willingness to give Schilling an extension last year rather than Pedro. Perhaps Pedro just wanted respect.

I certainly know now that my innocence as a sports fan is over. Now I’m cynical. Now I feel like every time one of my favorite athletes does something, I will be suspicious of an ulterior motive.

There are now reports that the Yankees, in fact, encouraged Minaya to offer his seemingly outrageous deal to Martinez in an attempt to trump the Red Sox and leave them empty-handed in the free-agent pitching derby. I just don’t know whom to trust anymore.

But I do know one thing. I long for the times when I sat in the stands at Fenway Park on a warm summer’s day, five or six years ago, and watched a man who had no business even pitching in the majors come out and dominate big-league hitters like there was no tomorrow.

The days when I could see my favorite players on the field and not suspect them of hating the management, hating the media, hating their teammates. But, in fact, that day will never return because the business of sports is just that—a business—and the last year has finally made me realize that, once and for all.

I’ll still get goosebumps sitting in Fenway Park and hearing the crowd cheering for Curt Schilling as he goes to strike out the side against the Yankees. But it will never be the same as watching little Pedro Martinez out on the mound, feeding off the energy of the crowd that loved him so much, bringing together a city that had long been considered racist, and helping to raise the hands of Hispanics, blacks, Irish-Catholics and WASPs alike in cheering on a member of the Olde Towne Team.

I’ve always been amazed by how sports fans allow themselves to have such selective memories. Many of my fellow Red Sox fans have been calling me in the last day or two to express anger over Martinez’s defection to New York. Yet I choose not to remember those times.

Instead, I will remember a man with the No. 45 on his back who electrified a stadium, a city and a country, and then walked out the door and off into the sunset with a World Series Championship.

—Staff wroter Robert C. Boutwell can be reached at boutwel@fas.harvard.edu. His column appears on alternate Wednesdays.