This year will be the third straight in which Fenway Park will sell out all of the Red Sox’s home games; still, there are a handful of games in which the park buzzes with a special kind of electricity. The first time the Sox played the Yankees in 2004 was one of those days as, obviously, was last year’s home opener.
Last night was another one of those games. For the first time since he declined the Red Sox’s three-year offer and signed with the Mets, Pedro Martinezâ€šÃ„Ã®whose 1999 and 2000 seasons were the best years a pitcher has ever had in a Red Sox uniform, and arguably the best two-year performance in the history of the gameâ€šÃ„Ã®was back at Fenway.
Pedro is unquestionably one of the smartest and best-spoken players in baseball, and he rarely speaks without knowing exactly what he wants to say. During a pre-game press conference (you can see the video on NESN), Martinez said he likely hurt his negotiating position with the Sox by telling them how much he wanted to return to Boston after the ’04 season. He then sent a roomful of reporters into paroxysms of laughter. “I wish Lucchino was here,” he said. Speaking of an airport meeting he had in the Dominican Republic with Lucchino and John Henry, he went on: “I could tell Lucchino like I did before when I tilted my glasses down and tell him that I got four years and he goes, ‘No, bullshit.’ I told him I got four years, after that they were leaving for the Winter Meetings, so now you know how much time they had to work it out.”
Lucchino is an easy target, and Pedro knows it: he’s the person who takes most of the heat when there’s a controversy in Red Sox Nation, and he’s likely the least beloved member of an ownership group that has been all but sainted in New England. But Pedro’s recounting of his negotiations with the Sox isn’t fair. (For details about Martinez’s meeting with Sox ownership on that tarmac, the extent to which he wanted to stay in Boston, and specifics about the minute-by-minute negotiations that ended with Martinez signing with the Mets, check out Feeding the Monster.) In fact, Lucchino was the member of the front office most sentimental about keeping Martinez in a Red Sox uniform.
In years past, this kind of quip would have been all that was needed to drive a spike between a former player and team management. Indeed, the Sox during the Dan Duquette-John Harrington era didn’t expend a lot of energy offering olive branches. (Remember Roger Clemens’ return to Fenway?) The Boston papers had already been speculating about what the reaction to Pedro would beâ€šÃ„Ã®with many predicting a resounding chorus of boos. Surely the pre-game press conference didn’t help his case.
But one of the many things the current ownership has done so well is make Fenway, and the Red Sox, a happier, more welcoming place. After the first inning tonight, the Fenway JumboTron aired a video tribute to Martinez. It was a wonderful montage: of Pedro dumping water on fans’ heads during a humid summer day; of Pedro bounding onto Busch Stadium’s field like an exuberant child after the Sox’s World Series win; of Pedro glaring in at Derek Jeter after striking him out with a nasty curve; of Pedro pointing to the sky. (I might not have chosen Billy Joel’s “This Is The Time” as the soundtrack, but then I wouldn’t play “Sweet Caroline” every game, either. I’d also kick out any fan who tried to start the wave…but I digress.) And the fans at Fenway cheered. The sound in the stadium grew louder until it became a full-throated roar. Martinez, sitting on the top step of the Mets dugout, watched the video with a huge grin on his face. When it ended, a message flashed across the screen: “Pedro Martinez: Welcome back and welcome always.” With that, Martinez came out of the dugout, tipped his cap, waved to the crowd, and then wrapped his arms around himself as if he wanted to hug the crowd. Fenway was as loud as its been all year. The Red Sox–these Red Sox–are too smart to drive a wedge between the team and one of the most transcendent players ever to play the game.
The Martinez tribute was just one of the emotional, bridge-building moments of the night. Before the game, the Sox had a ceremony honoring the 1986 American League Championship team. Bruce Hurst was there, as were Oil Can Boyd, Spike Owen, and Glenn Hoffman. Wade Boggs, Jim Rice, and Dwight Evans were there. Even Calvin Schiraldi, the losing pitcher in Games 6 and 7 of the ’86 Series, was there. But Bill Buckner was not. He was, as MC (and Sox radio announcer) Joe Castiglione explained, taking his daughter on a tour of colleges in Washington State. Last time I checked, most colleges aren’t in session in late June, but Buckner can be excused for not wanting to risk the wrath of the Fenway faithful. He shouldn’t have worried. As Castiglione said Buckner would always be welcomed in Boston, the crowd stood and cheered.
On Thursday, there’ll be an on-field ceremony honoring Pedro, Manny Ramirez, and David Ortiz. Ortiz had an off night–at least by his standards–but it was a good showing by Ramirez. He picked up a pair of RBIs on a gift-wrapped double misplayed by Mets left fielder Lastings Milledge, gunned down Jose Reyes at the plate in the fifth, and joked with Pedro throughout. But one of the most telling play occuring during in the bottom of the sixth. With one out and nobody on, Manny hit a routine grounder to shortstop. And he sprinted down the line.