The similarities between Silvio and Carlos Martinez are hard to miss: Dominican-born, small-framed, breaking into the majors at the ripe age of 21 in relief, then getting the chance to start at 22, and of course they even share a last name (but no relation). But for the sake of Carlos Martinez, we should all hope this is about the point where the similarities end.
Silvio Martinez was signed by the Pirates after the 1974 Central American Games, when the 17-year-old went 2-0 with a 1.69 ERA for the Dominican team, striking out 29. While a few Dominicans had entered the major leagues in the 1950s and 60s, the 1970s were when the floodgates opened. Silvio joined that flood.
He worked his way up the minors leagues, traded along the way to the White Sox, where he got his first cup of coffee in 1977. As the 1978 season began, Silvio had been traded to the Cardinals and sent back down to work as a starter in AAA. But he was poised to announce his presence with authority.
Silvio was dominant for the AAA Springfield Redbirds, posting a 5-2 record, 2.17 ERA and 7.0 K/9. The crowning achievement would come on his very last minor league start for the season, May 26 in Omaha. Silvio took a perfect game into the eighth inning, when with two outs, a batter reached base on an error. He still finished with a no-hitter.
Despite hurling a near-perfect game, the more significant event for Martinez that night was happening in the Cardinals front office, where General Manager Bing Devine traded starter Eric Rasmussen to the Padres for George Hendrick. The move cleared a spot in the rotation for Silvio, and meant his next start would be just four days later at Shea Stadium.
Making his first major league start on just three days rest, Silvio Martinez retired the Mets in order on his first turn through the lineup. He issued a couple walks and hit a batter on his second trip through the lineup, but still carried a no-hitter into the 7th, when Mets Left Fielder Steve Henderson broke it up with a solo homer. Martinez scuffled through the final three innings, even allowing another run on a walk and two wild pitches in the ninth, but finished the game with a one-hit complete game.
It was a storybook start to Silvio Martinez's career in St. Louis - a one-hit debut just four days after throwing a minor league no-hitter. He was only the second NL pitcher to throw a one-hitter in his first start. The other? The Godfather of all Dominican pitchers: Juan Marichal.
Unfortunately, the game also began what would become a trend for Silvio. He was occasionally spectacular, but those memorable performances could mask some real concerns in the underlying numbers. In July, he threw another complete game one-hitter against the Pirates. A few weeks later he would toss a complete game two-hitter in San Francisco. But his strikeouts and walks per nine innings were both worse than league average. While his 3.64 ERA seemed respectable enough, his 4.55 FIP (against a league average of 3.69) should have been a red flag... you know, if FIP had been invented yet.
Still, at just 22-years-old, Silvio seemed like a rising star. In 1979, he delivered what would be the best season of his career. He logged 209 innings, posting a 3.27 ERA and a 3.60 FIP. His strikeout and walk rates both trended in the right direction.
Silvio spent his offseasons back home in the Dominican, and it was there he contracted pneumonia, delaying his arrival to Cardinals Spring Training in 1980 and causing him to lose 14 pounds. "I feel okay, but I don't have enough power," he told one newspaper upon his arrival. When he did pitch, he didn't look right, and was bounced between the rotation and the bullpen. After the season, he said he had been bothered by elbow and back ailments all year, and told the New York Times "I didn't feel good all year."
Despite the rough season, new Cardinals Manager Whitey Herzog still saw Silvio Martinez as an important piece going into the 1981 season. "People will be surprised by our pitching. Silvio Martinez, Bob Forsch and [Larry] Sorensen should be front line," Herzog said.
But Martinez was again a late arrival to spring training, this time because of immigration issues. His performance was in many ways more consistent, but without those sterling one-hitters, it was becoming clear that he was a below league-average pitcher. By the end of the season he was moved to the bullpen.
On Oct. 4, 1981, the Cardinals faced the Pittsburgh Pirates - the club which had originally signed Silvio. Despite holding the best record in the NL East, the Cardinals had been eliminated from the postseason the night before by the Montreal Expos, thanks to the bizarre first half/second half system employed in the strike-shortened season. So it was with nothing on the line that Silvio took the mound in the 7th inning. He retired all six batters he faced. It would be the last time he pitched in the major leagues.
That offseason, the Cardinals sent then 25-year-old Silvio Martinez and Larry Sorensen to the Cleveland Indians in a three-team deal that brought Lonnie Smith to St. Louis. Smith would be a cornerstone of the '82 Cardinals World Champions, finishing 2nd in the MVP voting. Silvio would lose out on a rotation spot during spring training, make just four disastrous starts in AAA, then be out of baseball permanently.