The Day Pedro Lost | The Process Report

The Day Pedro Lost

By R.J. Anderson //

This post contains a lot of Red Sox talk. Convenient, because Marc Normandin and Patrick Sullivan are heading up a new Red Sox’s blog, aptly named the Red Sox Beacon. Those two are extremely smart and Marc is probably my best friend in writing so check them out. Bookmark them. Check it often. They’re good. They’re probably the smartest Red Sox fans I know.

Sunday was not the first time the Rays have struck out 17 times in one game at the hand of a division foe. Andy Sonnanstine performed admirably for someone who hadn’t appeared in a major league game for three weeks with only a brief rehab stint in thrown in last week, but Brandon Morrow easily stole the show. This was not the case on May 6, 2000.

The scene was a sunny Saturday afternoon at Fenway Park. The pitching matchup of the day reeked of mismatch. The Boston Red Sox starter being none other than the illustrious Pedro Martinez, fresh off a 1999 season in which he won 23 games and held a 2.07 ERA. Facing him, Steve Trachsel, a free agent signing whose 1999 season included a 5.56 ERA and 18 defeats.

Centerfielder Gerald Williams led off for the Rays. The rest of the lineup read as follows:

Dave Martinez RF
Greg Vaughn LF
Jose Canseco DH
Fred McGriff 1B
Vinny Castilla 3B
John Flaherty C
Kevin Stocker SS
Miguel Cairo 2B

Like Trachsel, Williams signed with the Rays during the offseason. Williams played an elite centerfield with a questionable bat. His career line before joining the Rays stood at a paltry .263/.309/426. Never one for basestealing, Williams defied presumptions made about his position and ability to catch balls; his role as a leadoff hitter took first as the most glaring misperception being made on this day.

Williams lead off the game with a single to left field on the first pitch, thus immediately ending hope Martinez held of pitching a no hitter. Months later, coincidentally, a Martinez pitch to lead off the game before charging the mound to throw slaps Martinez’s way; the umpires only ejected Williams and Martinez would go on to throw a complete game shutout while allowing a single hit and two baserunners total would hit Williams. On this day Williams watched as the next three batters struck out on a combined 14 pitches.

Martinez: 1 IP, 3 SO, 1 H, 0 BB, 0 ER

Trachsel took the mound and the Red Sox’s second baseman, Jose Offerman, opposed him. Trachsel would get ahead of him before striking him out swinging. The next two plate appearances belonged to Trot Nixon and Brian Daubach. Both fell via the strikeout after reaching counts of 2-2 and 3-2. Trachsel finished with only one more pitch than Martinez, but he did so in a more effortful manner.

Trachsel: 1 IP, 3 SO, 0 H, 0 BB, 0 ER

McGriff came up and went down on strikes. Castilla came up and went down on strikes. Flaherty, the person who ruined the no hitter later in the year for Martinez, singled, allowing Stocker to bat and subsequently strike out too. Martinez had not faced the minimum to this point, but each of his outs were via strikeout.

Martinez: 2 IP, 6 SO, 2 H, 0 BB, 0ER

Trachsel’s attempt at matching Martinez punch for punch ended on the first pitch to Carl Everett. A grounder down the first baseline ended with a flip to Trachsel for the easy out. Next up came Troy O’Leary. Through this point in the game Trachsel had only faced four batters, but he showed the tendency to fall behind or go even in counts that lead to longer at-bats than one with Trachsel’s stuff should feel comfortable pitching with. His fastball sat in the high-80s and he threw a variety of breaking and off-speed pitches, including a split-fingered fastball.

Here he fell behind again. 2-0 versus O’Leary, the same O’Leary who hit 28 home runs the season before. Trachsel attacked in the zone and O’Leary smacked a ball into right field. Just like that, no hitter ever and pressure on. Trachsel would continue to attack and reached 0-2 on Mike Stanley before retiring him two pitches later on a strikeout looking. Jason Varitek walked on six pitches and Manny Alexander grounded out to the shortstop in relatively harmless fashion.

Trachsel: 2 IP 4 SO, 1 H, 1 BB, 0 ER

Martinez flew through the third inning on 10 pitches; a strikeout and two flyouts, including an infield pop, had the 9-1-2 hitters heading back to the dugout for their gloves in no time whatsoever.

Martinez: 3 IP, 7 SO, 2 H, 0 BB, 0 ER

Pitchers who place batters on base by the handful are playing with fire. At any given time a ball in play can result in a hit, plating multiple runners. Trachsel had escaped a miniature jam against the bottom of the order last time out, but he’d find himself in a first and third situation with two outs against Everett in his part of the third. If that wasn’t enough to raise the temperature, each of Trachsel’s first four pitches were either balls or fouled off. The fifth bounced to Cairo at second for an easy put out.

Trachsel: 3 IP 5 SO, 2 H, 2 BB, 0 ER

The pair of pitchers would duel through the fourth with each adding a strikeout or tow to heir notches. The key for the Rays to this point was to jump on the first pitch from Martinez. Otherwise, the fate would be that of defeat; while defeat at the hands of any other pitcher would not be nearly as fine, it was still defeat. And that was unacceptable, if unavoidable.

Through five and a half innings the game’s score stood in a scoreless state. Trachsel had successfully countered every Martinez volley, but the lifespan on that effort seemed destined to expire soon as the Red Sox put men on the corners with one out and Stanley up. Trachsel pumped a pitch by him in the zone and then saw him deflect another off into the stands. With a 1-2 count, Stanley swung through the pitch, giving Trachsel the opening he needed to get out of the inning unscathed. Varitek would hit a grounder to the shortstop on a 2-1 count to assist.

It was the eighth inning with zeroes still in the runs column that something gave. Martinez struck out Cairo on three pitches. He sat down Williams on a groundout on three pitches. Then Davey Martinez, the very Martinez who acts as bench coach today, hit a grounder through the right side of the infield. With Vaughn down 1-2 in the count, he swiped second, giving the Rays’ biggest offseason addition a chance to put them ahead.

The fallout from Vaughn is well known. He stunk for the Rays after his first season, and who besides Chuck LaMar and the front office expected otherwise. As a 32 year old he pelted 50 home runs for the Padres. A year later, as a Cincinnati Red, he hit 45 more. In this season, he would hit 28, and for his Rays’ career he wound up with 60 total. This situation, though, right here and right now, with a runner on second and Pedro Goddamn Martinez throwing this next pitch in a full count with two outs, this was what the Rays’ front office envisioned when they mislabeled him as a run producer because of gargantuan runs batted in totals. This is why they paid him; to hit bombs and to plate these runners when others would not suffice.

On that 3-2 count and on pitch seven of the at-bat, Vaughn delivered on all those promises. He launched a liner into centerfield, Martinez scored. Jubilation ran supreme. Take that, Red Sox, take that. The Rays may have entered this game already five games back and nearly double digits from first place, but right now, for right now only, this was the potential turning point in the season. Canseco followed up Vaughn’s lengthy plate appearance with one of his own, this ending in a flyout.

Now the realization set in. They had accomplished the unthinkable and scored a run against Pedro, but now the night would come and they would have to hold off the middle of the Red Sox’s lineup for six more outs. Was Trachsel up to the task?

Indeed, he was. The eighth would include two strikeouts and a flyout to shallow center on a combined 12 pitches. The ninth would come and go just as quietly, with eight pitches needed for a strikeout and two more flyouts. Just like that, Trachsel earned a complete game shutout. The Rays beat the Red Sox, hell, the Rays beat Pedro Martinez.

The significance of which should not be lost on anyone. Martinez would go on to another amazing season, this time holding a career best 1.74 ERA. Boston would win 21 of his 29 starts in 2000. And for his career, he’d go 11-4 versus the Rays with a 1.99 ERA in 20 starts. He owned the Rays. He really did. Sure, he owned everyone, really, but the Rays more so than usual.

The final lines on the day:

Trachsel (W): 9 IP, 11 SO, 3 H, 3 BB, 0 ER
Martinez (L): 9 IP, 17 SO, 6 H, 1 BB, 1 ER

Both men threw over 130 pitches, but Martinez racked up nearly the amount of swinging strikes as Trachsel. And Martinez, despite throwing two fewer pitches overall, threw 26 more strikes. It’s fair to say he pitched better, heck, he pitched a lot better, despite Trachsel having one of the best games of his career.

Games like this, and like the so-called “Ice Bowl” illuminate Martinez’s dominance during this era against a relatively weak team. That’s the thing though, when you were watching him, it was never an indictment on the lineup that Martinez would strike dozens out or not allow anyone to score. All the focus, all the praise, all the eyes and all the lights were on firmly placed on Martinez’s small body.

Trachsel is the one who stood an archetypal 6’4”. He’s the one with a deliberate setup and delivery, the one with a pitch-to-pitch release best measured by a sundial. Martinez was the short fireballer with wildness in his eyes and actions. A known headhunter and a beloved one nonetheless. History’s greatest villain if the textbooks were written by suicidal wooden bats as they longed to smack against his fastball or changeup alike. He tossed fireballs like Mario and ate any obstacle like Yoshii. The man was good. Real good. Too good.

So good that when his team did lose on his start days it was often out of his control; like on this day. When Trachsel went toe-to-toe with the man and held his own. That’s the beauty of baseball, though; even on the roughest days, when things seem impossible, sometimes that impossible happens. Like Pedro Martinez losing to Steve Trachsel. Like Yunel Escobar – a supposedly notorious empty-headed player – making a heads-up scramble to third base on a groundout of all things. Like Brandon Morrow, the man known for his stuff and wildness, harnessing both and effortlessly dismissing 17 Rays while allowing a single hit.

That’s baseball. It’s beautiful and frustrating and perfect in so many ways. That’s just baseball.

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