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Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man

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It wasn't a walk-off, but it might as well have been.

I'm referring both to Pedro Martinez's most recent victory and to his first one, which, as some of you may recall, took place against the Mets on May 5, 1993. For those who don't, well...that's why we're here.

Pedro Martinez was the youngest player in the majors when he made the first of two appearances in September 1992. The Dodgers were the worst team in baseball that season, at 63-99, so there weren't as many paying notice to this highly-touted Dominican dandy, who in 1991 was The Sporting News Minor League Pitcher of the Year, but who dealt with injuries the following season. Martinez pitched two shutout innings in his lone relief appearance, than six in his lone start that season, taking the loss despite allowing only two tallies. When the season ended, he had anterior capsulolabral reconstruction performed on his left shoulder and Dodgers management decided it best to ease him back the following season, starting him in Triple-A before injuries necessitated his return to the bigs as a middle reliever.

Pedro didn't take to that role too well at first. In his initial two appearances, he yielded five runs in 4 2/3 innings, and got tagged for a three-run home run by Gerald Perry, costing the Dodgers a potential victory. Martinez's teammate, Darryl Strawberry, pled fan interference on the longball to no avail. The loss did enable a historic feat as Lee Smith became baseball's all-time save leader that evening, which might explain the lack of quotes in the papers about Martinez's performance from crusty-mouthed manager Tom Lasorda.

In an effort to ease Martinez into a groove, Lasorda began to bring Martinez in for situations that weren't as pressure-filled and that maneuver worked. His next five outings spanned eight innings. He yielded but one run, four hits, and one walk.

That brings us to the Dodgers-Mets two-game miniseries, which commenced on May 4. The Worst Team Money Could Buy got its first look at Martinez that night, in a sour-tasting 8-4 defeat that left them 9-15. It was also their first glance at a rookie catcher named Mike Piazza, the NL Player of the Week, who impressed with two hits, two walks and three RBI. Martinez held a 5-4 lead in the sixth inning by striking out Bobby Bonilla with two on and two out, and Piazza followed in the bottom of the frame with a two-run double, pushing the lead to three runs.

That morning a feature on Martinez ran in the Orange County Register. It talked of how Martinez might get sent to the minors when Todd Worrell came back from injury and how Martinez was glad just to have a chance to pitch with his older brother, Ramon.

"I am honored to be his brother because he is an All-Star. I would like to be a fake picture (mirror image) of him, to have what he has," Martinez told reporter Janis Carr.

Ramon pitched the next day, matched in a battle of aces with Bret Saberhagen and in the early part of the game, the Mets took leads of 3-0 and 5-2, smashing four extra-base hits, including a Bonilla home run, and taking advantage of six walks. The Dodgers responded with two in the sixth inning to make it a 5-4 game, turning the last couple innings into a battle of bullpens.

That wasn't a favorable matchup for the Mets. While the Dodgers could again turn to a suddenly rubber-armed Pedro, the best the Mets could offer was Mike Maddux. Guess who got the better (or batter) of that battle.

Martinez threw two hitless innings to keep the Dodgers in the game. That set the stage for the Dodgers eighth inning rally in which they loaded the bases with one out. Maddux struck out Eric Davis but Tim Wallach picked up his teammates with his second bases-loaded hit of the game, a two-run single that gave the Dodgers a 6-5 advantage. Los Angeles closer Jim Gott took the ball in the ninth and made things a little hairy, putting a couple runners on base in the ninth inning. But utility man Chico Walker made himself the useful answer to yet another trivia question (besides "Who was the last out in both the Mets 1986 division clincher and Darryl Kile's no-hitter?" by striking out to end the game. The loss left a friend of the Dodgers, Mets manager Jeff Torborg, bitterly disappointed, but had to leave Pedro Martinez elated. He had just earned his first big league win.

The next days Riverside Press-Enterpirse carried its own Pedro piece, in which it referenced the debate on whether Martinez was more worthy of being kept in the majors than Omar Daal and Rick Trlicek

"I like being here, but I'll be hoping all my life to be a starter again," Martinez said to reporter Lew Price. "I definitely would rather be in the bullpen here than in Albuquerque starting because I can learn morehere and become better. I could end up being a reliever. You never know what's going to happen."

What happened was that Martinez became a friend of the walk-off. He earned nine more victories as a reliever in 1993 and five of them were of the walk-off variety. He finished up at 10-5 with a 2.61 ERA and averaged better than a strikeout per inning, tying for the major-league lead in reliever strikeouts.

That winter, Dodgers management felt its biggest need was not young pitching, but second base, where Jody Reed had established he was no Steve Sax. Meanwhile, the Expos were in cost-cutting mode and had a speedy second baseman to spare in Delino Deshields. The match was perfect for both general managers, Fred Claire (Los Angeles) and Dan Duquette (Montreal) and a deal was quickly proffered, less than a month after the World Series had ended.

Fan and media reaction to the trade indicated it was not a popular one in Montreal. But folks in Dodgertown, while happy to get Deshields, realized what had just departed.

"In a nutshell, I guess I'm blown away that we traded one of the best pitchers on our team," said Dodgers centerfielder Brett Butler, whose analysis looks pretty impressive when you look at it from the distance of 12-and-a-half years later.

True Metinezs know...In addition to earning his first win against the Mets, Pedro's first career shutout also came against the Mets, when he beat Dwight Gooden, 9-0 on June 9, 1994. Additionally, Pedro Martinez pitched for both the Mets and their opponents (the Expos) on July 5, 1996. Pedro Jaime Martinez started that day for the Expos, allowing four runs in 6 1/3 innings, recording a no-decision. Pedro (Aquino) Martinez allowed a run in 1 1/3 innings of relief for the Mets, who rallied from a four-run deficit for a 9-6 road triumph.

Anyone remember the last time the Mets were the first team to 10 wins?

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