Looking back on an artist

I like to think he just made a batter's jaw drop here, bat on the shoulder for strike 3.

A couple of weeks ago, I tuned into a Red Sox-Twins game on my laptop and watched Josh Beckett twirl a gem for the good guys. Beckett blanked Minnesota through seven innings, and while he worked, I thought about how routine Beckett had made that seem in 2007. And whenever I start to think about pitching and dominance, of course, I think about Pedro Martinez.

I took out my notebook, and started to doodle. It was Pedro, locked in on home plate, in mid-delivery, likely about to send a pitch that would rocket back to the Bambino’s ass.

He last pitched for the Sox seven seasons ago, and worked his magic here for seven seasons total (well, 6½ seasons if we consider the 2001 disaster). But like his fastball, like his curve, like his changeup, those seven years went by in a flash. I was sitting in health class in high school when I learned that he’d signed his contract after being traded to Boston that winter, and I was sitting in a newsroom, a few months after graduating from college, when I learned that the Red Sox let him leave to sign with the New York Mets.

Did I even get to enjoy him?

My initial thought lately is, “no.” I didn’t pay enough attention to him, I should have gone to more games, I should have written more about the game while I was still learning just how to write.

But, after a bit of reflection, I don’t believe that biting self assessment is necessarily true. I have a vivid memory of sitting on my bed in 1998 and watching him battle the Oakland A’s in his first start with the Red Sox. He threw seven innings, struck out 11, and didn’t give up a run. I remember pouring over his ridiculously good numbers in 1999 and 2000, and growing giddy at comparisons to Sandy Koufax and Bob Gibson. And this carried on after his peak, when he stepped down from invincibility to mere greatness in 2003 and 2004.

I think the difference now comes from time and the benefit of separation. Now that he’s no longer pitching, that the Red Sox have since moved onto Beckett, Jon Lester and Clay Buchholz, the weight of his accomplishments have become all the more vivid and breathtaking. All three of those current pitchers have had moments of greatness. Two were vital cogs in World Series winning teams. Two have thrown no-hitters. Lester has come back from cancer to become the dominant left-hander in the American League. Beckett has been an October hero, throwing gem after gem in the playoffs and in all odd-numbered seasons. Buchholz is at the beginning of a career where, on his best nights, he’s been literally unhittable. For Red Sox fans, it’s a great time for pitching.

And while they’re all a thrill to watch on any given night, none have been able to transcend greatness the way Pedro seemed to every game. At least, that’s how it felt. He baffled hitters, toyed with them, all with an artistic flair. His fastballs had a heartbeat as they crossed the plate. His curveball buckled knees. His changeup left batters flailing. It was all too much.

But no one pitches forever. And pitchers are gone longer than they’re able to throw. I believe now that I appreciated him more than enough while he played. I just miss him. That’s enough of a reminder to enjoy the current rotation while they’re here, and to always stay on the lookout for the next great artist to take the mound.

And I have the memories. There was nothing like watching Pedro.

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