Martínez trade changed Red Sox’s destiny

Written by: Craig Muder

In hindsight, the deal that brought Pedro Martínez to the Red Sox seemed like a no-brainer for Boston.

But in the context of the time, the Nov. 18, 1997, trade with the Expos appeared to be a risk.

Seven years later, Martínez proved to be the driving force that ended Boston’s 86-year championship drought. It was seven years of near-perfection for Martínez.

The 1997 season was the breakout campaign for Martínez, who had been a big league regular since 1993 but had not harnessed his electric repertoire during those four seasons. But in ’97 in Montreal, Martínez was 17-8 with an MLB-best 1.90 ERA and 13 complete games to go with 305 strikeouts. In his age-25 season, Martínez appeared to be on the cusp of something historic.

But with Martínez set to become a free agent following the 1998 season, the Expos decided to look to the future and traded Martínez to the Red Sox. In return, Montreal got pitchers Tony Armas and Carl Pavano – the latter considered one of the top prospects in the game.

Meanwhile, Martinez appeared determined to test the free agent market.

“That’s going to be a very challenging thing for the Red Sox,” Boston general manager Dan Duquette told the Hartford Courant, referring to trying to re-sign Martínez. “But the good news is, we got Pedro Martínez. This is the type of trade, that as a GM, you go to bed at night, you dream about trading for the Cy Young Award winner.”

Duquette had allowed another Cy Young Award winner, Roger Clemens, to leave via free agency following the 1996 season, and the Red Sox posted a record of 78-84 in 1997. But with one bold trade, Duquette found his next ace.

“I think that it sends a message to our fans and our players that we want to be a competitive team,” Duquette said, “that we’re back in business with an ace on our pitching staff.”

Duquette didn’t waste any time making sure his new acquisition would be in Boston for the long haul. On Dec. 10, the Red Sox signed Martínez to a $90 million deal that ran through the 2004 season and set records for total dollars and average salary.

“I believe I have earned the money, but that’s not my motivation,” Martínez told the Los Angeles Times. “The way I look at it is that every time I pitch I have to bring the food to the table. I have to bring food to my people no matter how I feel or if I’m hurt that day. I could be making nothing and I’d still have the same motivation.

“Of course, I also hate to lose.”

Martínez would not do much of that in the coming years. After going 19-7 with a 2.89 ERA in 1998, Martínez posted back-to-back epic seasons in 1999-2000 – winning the Cy Young after each year.

In 1999, Martínez was 23-4 with a 2.07 ERA and 313 strikeouts. The next year, he was 18-6 with a 1.74 ERA and 284 Ks. His WHIP of 0.737 in 2000 is the lowest single-season mark of any pitcher in history with at least 200 innings pitched. The next best total on that list, 0.780, was set by Walter Johnson in the dead ball era season of 1913.

Martínez’s mark came during one of the most prolific offensive ages in the game’s history.

“The nastiest pitcher in the league with the nastiest change-up,” Dennis Eckersley, who was Martínez’s teammate in Boston in 1998, told the Los Angeles Times. “And he’ll throw it on any count and in any situation.”

Martínez led the American League in ERA in both 2002 and 2003 for his fourth and fifth single-season ERA crowns. Then in 2004, Martínez went 16-9 to help the Red Sox win their first World Series title since 1918.

He finished his career with four seasons with the Mets and another with the Phillies, posting a record of 219-100 with 3,154 strikeouts and a 2.93 ERA.

Martínez was elected to the Hall of Fame in 2015.

“Greg Maddux has outstanding movement and may manipulate the ball better than anyone I’ve ever seen,” said Joe Kerrigan, who was Martínez’s pitching coach in Montreal and Boston. “But Pedro can get you both ways – with power and finesse.”

Craig Muder is the director of communications for the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum

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