Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Vote For Pedro!

This is #3 of 5 Key Mets Players for the 2008 Season.
I've heard it said by more than a few people that the signing of Pedro Martinez prior to the 2005 season was a waste. Not so. I will and we at the Ballclub have defended this signing in the past, and will continue to do so long after Pedro has retired. Yes, when Pedro was brought in, he was not the dominant, badass Pedro that he was for so many years with the Expos and Red Sox, and it was a signing based more on reputation than on expected performance. Not only did the Pedro signing arguably give the Mets a leg up in bringing in some other key players, it brought back a few things to the Mets that had been sorely lacking in the few years prior. Those things were Energy from the fans, and Hope. For those first couple of seasons, every Pedro start was an event. Things were always happening. Pedro was brilliant, or sprinklers were going off on the infield, or Pedro was pointing at fans and acting silly, or whatever. The signing was a necessary one at the time it was made. Whether or not he's earned the $53 million is, at this point, academic.

At the time, Pedro was counted on to be the Ace. With Pedro now entrenched on the latter half of his career, and also entrenched as the #2 starter behind Johan Santana, Pedro will be counted on less as The Man, the guy who's going to eat innings and dominate, and moreso as the #2 guy, who is going to be himself, as he always has, pitch out the season, have his rough spots, but more often than not, give the Mets the 6 innings needed to win a game.

It's clear that, unlike in Boston, 2004, when Curt Schilling was brought in, there is no sense of "Dueling Aces" going on between Pedro and Johan. Pedro and Johan certainly appear to have a great deal of respect for each other, and for what they both will bring to the Mets in 2008. It appears that Pedro has willingly ceded the #1 starter status to Johan, and rightfully so. Pedro isn't going to rear back and kill you with a stream of 95MPH heaters, deadly curves and mind-numbing changeups. He's not that kind of pitcher anymore. His best days will see him touch 90-91. But as he has gotten older, Pedro has managed to successfully re-invent himself as a pitcher. Pedro is a rare breed: A power pitcher who knows how to pitch, rather than just throw (I cite Oliver Perez as an example, not as a knock on Ollie, just an example). One such game late in 2005 saw Pedro shut out the Atlanta Braves on a mystifying array of off speed and breaking pitches, and the gas at the right moment. But this sort of effort from Pedro seemed to elude him as the 2006 season wore on, and his health was an issue. That, again, was nothing new. As a pitcher with a slight build, Pedro's arm health was always that thing that nagged in the back of your mind, be it as a Sox fan from 2001-2004, a Mets fan following, or anyone who owned him in a Fantasy Baseball league. And in 2006, that major injury bug finally hit him, when he went down with a balky hip and, eventually, a Rotator Cuff injury.

2007 could basically be considered a wash for Pedro. He returned to the Mets in September, perhaps as the cog that would finally push the Mets away from the pack in the NL East. That didn't happen. But it wasn't Pedro's fault. Yes, the first few efforts he turned in were uneven. But like John Maine has been able to bank on his fabulous finish, so, I believe, can Pedro. With the Mets desperately hanging on, playing a makeup game against the Cardinals on September 27th, Pedro came out and pitched his heart out for 7 courageous innings. With the Mets offense providing him with nothing, the crowd apoplectic and the margin for error nil, Pedro pitched to the absolute best of his ability that night. Yes, he gave up 3 runs on some soft singles and shoddy defense. But what more could possibly have been expected from him on that night? His effort alone brought some faint glimmer of energy to the fans at Shea that night—and yes, it comes back to that one thing—Hope.

So now, we turn ahead to 2008. The final year on Pedro's 4-year deal. Pedro has come to training camp feeling great, full of pep and energy and his usual vinegar. He has brazenly said that he feels better than he has in years, provided us with the quote of the year when asked about steroids, and even boldly threw a side session with his eyes closed. But what, then, can we expect from him once the gun sounds? Again, with Santana in the fold, Pedro doesn't have to be an ace, he just has to be good. Santana's going to be the guy. He's going to eat innings, be his own bridge to Heilman, Feliciano and maybe even all the way to Wagner. But maybe he's better than good. Maybe, just maybe, Pedro has one last, great season in him. And wouldn't that make the Mets golden? Wouldn't that ease the burden on an already questionable bullpen? Wouldn't that serve to back up Carlos Beltran's statements? Woudn't that shut Jimmy Rollins and the Philly fans up?
The odds certainly wouldn't dictate that Pedro would be able to be the dominant, badass Pedro of old, that's for sure. But given that Pedro is very likely feeling better than he has in years, that he won't have the pressure on him of having to live up to his past, and the fact that Pedro is, perhaps, the smartest pitcher of his generation, wouldn't it just make sense for Pedro to shock the hell out of everyone, come out and put up 15-18 wins and a 3.30 ERA? Wouldn't it make sense to see Pedro come out and toss 7 innings and give up 3 runs, 2 earned on 7 hits and 1 walk on a regular basis?

He did that last September when hope was hopeless. Hope isn't hopeless anymore in Mets camp.

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