A once-great pitcher with diminished velocity, who looked to be at the end of his career, comes back for a final season, relying on guile rather than stuff to get hitters out. That describes Adam Wainwright’s 2019, but it also was the story of Pedro Martinez’s final season with the Phillies ten years ago.
It’s a comparison that’s been on my mind a lot lately, and one I talked about with VEB alum Alex Crisafulli on this week’s Chirps podcast.
Martinez’s 4-year deal with the Mets ended in 2008, and as often happens in late-career free agent deals, he was pretty Pedro-like early on, but pretty bad by the end. He finished that season with a 5.61 ERA in 109 innings pitched, and the general consensus was that was the end of the line.
But Pedro wasn’t ready to hang it up, so even when no major league offers came in, he prepared to pitch for the Dominican Republic in the World Baseball Classic to showcase that he still had it. But the DR team was eliminated early, and Pedro’s line was 2 IP, 3 H, 1 BB and 2 ER.
And so the 2009 season began without Martinez under contract. It would stay that way until July 15, when the playoff-bound Phillies looked to bolster their crumbling rotation with the 37-year-old Pedro Martinez.
Everybody knew that Pedro’s velocity and pure stuff was nowhere near where they had been. But there was a sense among players that he had a certain intangible quality that would still lead him to success.
“Guys like Jamie Moyer have shown that you don’t have to throw hard to be effective,” Ryan Howard said.
“Whether he throws 95 or 89, he’s going to find a way to get guys out,” David Wright said.
Isn’t that exactly the same kind of thing we’ve been hearing about Adam Wainwright? So how did it work out for Pedro?
Martinez made his Phillies debut on August 12, went five innings, gave up three runs, and struck out five. His Game Score was exactly average: 50.
Pedro no longer threw his slider, and his fastball topped out around 88mph. All of his pitches huddled together in the 80s and high 70s. His curveball was the only pitch which graded out slightly above league average.
Martinez would appear in nine games down-the-stretch for the Phillies. He turned a game of 8-inning shutout work, as well as 7-innings of one-run ball. But four times he failed to get past the 4th inning. His average Game Score for the partial season was again, exactly 50. But his 3.63 ERA and 4.28 FIP were an improvement from his latter days with the Mets.
Pedro would not pitch in the Division Series, then turned-in a solid 7-innings of scoreless work in Game 2 of the NLCS. But Pedro’s two starts in the World Series would not go nearly as well, resulting in two Losses and seven Earned Runs in just 10 total innings.
In what would be the final appearance of his career, a Game 6 loss to the Yankees, Pedro’s fastball was reportedly topping out at just 84mph.
There’s a lifecycle to a player’s career, even the great ones. I don’t think I’m being too melodramatic to say that when you’re watching a great player rally against the end of a career, it’s like they are cheating death. And that’s thrilling.
I remember watching Pedro Martinez of the Philadelphia Phillies, particularly in the playoffs, and delighting every time he was able to get batters out with the embers of his once flame-throwing repertoire. But Father Time remains undefeated, and ultimately the Reaper came for Pedro in the form we always knew it would: The New York Yankees.
Watching Adam Wainwright - even in just his first two starts of the season - reminds me a lot of 2009 Pedro Martinez. The highs are unbelievably high, but it’s a tightrope walk, and I wince at the prospect of watching Waino fall.