I would like to share this with the people of Montreal who are not going to have a team anymore, but my heart and my ring is with them.
– Pedro Martinez, in the Red Sox locker room after winning the 2004 World Series
It took two seasons for our favourite ace to come back as well. 1999 was the year of Pedro Martinez. Going into that June series vs. Montreal he was 11-1, and on his way to a season rivaled in the modern era by only the likes of Gibson and Koufax. He’d go on to strike out 5 of the first 6 batters he faced in the All-Star game at Fenway, and throw 6 no-hit innings in relief in a playoff game against Cleveland.
Watching Pedro in 1998 was difficult, but watching him in 1999 was akin to torture. It was hard knowing that under different circumstances Expos fans could have still been watching him pitch every fifth day…
When Roy Halladay steps on the mound at Rogers Centre today in front of what will hopefully be a very large and appreciative crowd, I’ll be 500km away and thinking about an interleague series back in June of 1999, when a comparable scene played out in Montreal.
I bet Jays fans have similar feelings about this Saturday as I had when I was anticipating Pedro’s return. After less than two seasons, he had become the toast of the American League. Suddenly, he belonged to America (a point proven further in March of 2011 when a portrait of Martinez was hung at the Smithsonian). I would think that every ESPN.com front page or Sports Illustrated cover with Halladay in a Phillies uniform makes a lifelong Jays fan feel a bit uneasy. Happy for him, undoubtedly, but wistful for what could have been nonetheless.
The Wednesday night game was an opportunity for fans to show Pedro how we felt by cheering for him as if he was still one of ours. Before the game, I remember hoping he would throw a masterpiece. He was introduced to a thunderous roar from the 19,000 who were there. Make no mistake, between the Expos die-hards there to say thank you and the northern New-Englanders who drove up to see their Sahx, Pedro got a lot of love. Especially after he retired the first six Expos he faced, striking out three.
Here comes the plot twist. The Expos won the game 13-1.
Pedro went six innings, giving up four earned runs. He struck out 10, and left the game with his team down 4-0. He did have 10 strikeouts, but considering the season he had, it was far from a good outing.
It was only one of four games he’d lose all season, and he was outdueled by Mike Thurman. Thurman went 7.1 innings, and was then replaced by Guillermo Mota. The highlight of a wild, 8 run 8th inning was when Mota hit a three run homer in his first Major League at bat.
A great performance by Pedro didn’t end up being the big story that night, and who knows, maybe Carlos Villanueva will pull a Mike Thurman, steal Doc’s spotlight and the Jays will come up with a big win. The only thing that’s certain is that a future Hall of Famer is coming back home this Canada Day weekend. Show him how much he meant to Toronto. One day soon, when he gets his ring, you might be able to see how much Toronto really meant to him.