BANGOR, Maine — Pedro Martinez brought an electric presence to the mound throughout an 18-year Major League baseball career that led to his first-ballot induction to the Hall of Fame in 2015.
But more than six years after his last pitch — save for those he throws with his two baseball-playing sons these days — Martinez’s charismatic personality remained dominant as the former Boston Red Sox right-hander charmed an audience of nearly 500 Tuesday evening during an appearance at the Gracie Theater on the campus of Husson University, sponsored by Townsquare Media and 92.9 The Ticket.
“I see Yankee fans down front,” he joked at the outset of the event. “Give me a ball, and let’s see what happens.”
Perhaps the highlight of the 90-minute question-and-answer session was Martinez’s recollection of the conclusion of the 2004 World Series, when the Red Sox defeated the St. Louis Cardinals to end the team’s 86-year championship drought.
As video of the final pitch of the Series-clinching victory played in the background, Martinez stood up and danced like it was 2004 all over again.
“There were so many heartbreaking moments, so many things that I went through and I came here with the purpose of winning for Boston,” recalled Martinez, who went 16-9 with a 3.90 ERA in 2004, the last of his seven seasons with the Red Sox. “This was my last year, and it seemed like that last at-bat took forever. I know we had two outs, but we had seen so many things with Bill Buckner and all that. I couldn’t wait to get that out.
“It seemed like it was yesterday,” he added.
The Red Sox’s rivalry with the New York Yankees also came up from time to time, with one of the opening questions about the brawl between the teams during Game 3 of the 2003 American League championship and the confrontation between Martinez and 72-year-old Yankees coach Don Zimmer, which ended with Zimmer charging Martinez and Martinez pushing him to the ground.
“To this day I still think about it,” said Martinez, now a studio analyst for MLB Network and a roving instructor for the Boston Red Sox. “Because if because if I was to erase anything from my time in baseball, not because it happened because what happens in baseball happens, but because it happened with an older man.”
Martinez also addressed the current state of affairs between the two American League East rivals in the aftermath of the Yankees acquiring slugger Giancarlo Stanton from the Miami Marlins during the offseason to pair with 2017 AL home run leader and rookie of the year Aaron Judge in the middle of the lineup.
“As we all know baseball is won by pitching and defense,” said Martinez just after the event. “Offense plays a big role but if (the Yankees) don’t put up the pitching that they need they’re going to find themselves in trouble again. That’s probably why they didn’t win it, because they didn’t have a (Justin) Verlander or someone like that who could step up in a big moment.
“But I’ll tell you what, we’re (the Red Sox) not just going to stay arms crossed, believe me. I know that the team’s going to do a little more, we need that big bat. We did well enough last year but we fell a little bit short. We’re going to try to fix the things we need to compete with any team in the Eastern Division or any team in the big leagues.”
Other topics included how Martinez used a love of gardening inherited from his mother as stress relief before his pitching starts, his passion for fishing — which generated several cabin offers from among the crowd — being a teammate of Manny Ramirez, and how Martinez helped facilitate the Red Sox’s signing of David Ortiz after Big Papi was released by the Minnesota Twins before the 2003 season.
“The Red Sox will sign another big hitter,” said Martinez, “but there will never be another David Ortiz.”
The Dominican Republic-born Martinez, now 46, began his Major League career in 1992 with the Los Angeles Dodgers, then was traded after the 1993 season to the Montreal Expos.
“The Dodgers didn’t think I was going to make it because of my frame,” said the 5-foot-10-inch Martinez. “I figured out he only way I was going to survive was by working hard and making sure that if I didn’t make it wasn’t because I worked hard enough.”
Martinez went 19-7 in his first year in Boston in 1998 and finished second in the American League Cy Young Award balloting, but that was nothing compared to 1999 when he went a stunning 23-4 with a 2.07 ERA and 313 strikeouts — leading the AL in all three categories en route to the Cy Young Award and second place in the MVP vote.
Another highlight of that season was his All-Star Game pitching stint at Fenway Park, when he was named the game’s MVP stint when struck out five batters — Barry Larkin, Larry Walker, Sammy Sosa, Mark McGwire and Jeff Bagwell — in two innings of work.
“I was just so proud to represent Boston in the most unique All-Star game in the most unique place,” said Martinez of that game, which was preceded by a special ceremony honoring former Red Sox great Ted Williams. “To me Fenway Park is the most unique place in baseball.”
Martinez yielded only 128 hits in 217 innings pitched in 2000 while going 18-6 with a 1.74 ERA and 284 strikeouts to capture his third Cy Young Award in four years.
After an injury-plagued 2001 season, he went 20-4 and finished second in the Cy Young balloting in 2002 and went 14-4 in 2003.
Martinez finished his tenure with Boston with a 117-30 record before signing with the New York Mets in 2005.
He recorded his 3,000th career strikeout with the Mets in 2007, then went on to sign with the Philadelphia Phillies in 2009 and become just the 10th pitcher to win at least 100 games in both leagues.
Martinez retired in 2011 with a 219-100 career record with a 2.93 ERA and 3,514 strikeouts over 18 big-league seasons. He is the only pitcher to lead his league in ERA in five different seasons.
“It was just great to actually have the opportunity to come to a different part of New England and have such a great time with so many wonderful people,” said Martinez of his first “but not last” visit to Maine. “Even though it’s cold I felt really warm.”
Follow BDN Maine Sports on Facebook for the latest in Maine high school and college sports.