08 June 2009

June 3rd, 1995 MON at SDP

I was recently able to get a digital copy of Pedro Martinez's June 3rd performance from way back in 1995, as a member of the Expos in San Diego. In that game, Pedro, at 23 years old, threw nine perfect innings with zero run support. In the top of the 10th, the Montreal offense spent a ton of time squeezing out the one run, and Pedro- entering the 10th inning on 92 pitches- gives up a rope double down the line leading off the inning to Bip Roberts, who was hitting everthing that year. Guys like that always seemed to have the best chance off Pedro. Enrique Wilson, early Orlando Hudson, Bip Roberts in this AB. Pedro was then pulled, and the Expos bullpen finished up the victory for him.

Watched the game last night- it was an ESPN Classic rebroadcast, so I only have Pedro's innings, which is obviously fine. A couple things stick out. First, Pedro was a bit wild early on. Obviously we're working on a relative scale here because he didn't ever even approach walking anyone until later in the game. But if you watch catcher Darrin Fletcher's glove, his command was a little bit off. He was still around the strike zone for the most part on his fastball, but it wasn't until about the third inning that he just got locked in, like freakishly so. His gun readings had him topping out at 94 which is insane- he was literally blowing balls by guys, which leads me to my next point...

There is an AB in the 8th inning, versus Ken Caminiti. For those who don't remember, Caminiti was a switch hitting 3B who, in 1995, was having his best season to date. He was staying healthy returning from the strike as tons of players around the league struggled through the awkward scheduling and the altered pace of the shortened and hastily re-started season and the injuries that resulted. The next year he would have his Big MVP Season, and three years later he'd help lead the Padres to the World Series, where they lost to the monolithic '98 Yankees. Broadcasters fucking loved this guy. LOVED him. They would audibly stiffen in the crotch when he'd come into play. He was carved out of wood, he looked like the god damn Brawny man, he hit jacks, didn't fuck around, and threw his giant body all the fuck over the place for his team. It was actually pretty insane to watch, what I remember of it.

But then we come to find out that he was able to do this because his every waking second was numbed out by cocaine, other varied hard drugs, alcohol and tons of steroids. He played his last game in 2001 at 38 and died three years later at 41.

But this was a crucially tough spot in any perfect game bid. The 7th and 8th innings are the danger zone- the top of the order comes back around for their third AB. In this game, for Pedro, that means Bip Roberts (hitting .325 at the time), Steve Finley, Hall of Famer Tony Gwynn, Hanford, CA's answer to Ivan Drago at 3B and then Roberto Petagine at 1B (which will lead me to my next point). Pedro started the 8th, bid intact, with a four seam fastball medium high and away, which Caminiti fouls off to the 3B side, late on the pitch. I mentioned velocity readings earlier- you only got it sporadically throughout the game when the PBP guy decided to mention it. I don't think he does during this AB, for what it's worth.

With the second pitch, Pedro moves back inside with another fastball, getting it right in on Caminiti's hands just below the belt, which he manages to dribble foul to the 3B side again. Caminiti struck out in both his previous two ABs showing no ability whatsoever to hit Pedro's best fastball.

Pitch three is where the AB gets fun. Pedro, at this point having an outsized reputation as a maniacal, hotheaded Latin headhunter, took a lot of shit from hitters at this point in his career, which people forget. It was instantly assumed without doubt that anything near the body was intentional. So Pedro puts his A+ fastball about an inch inside of Caminiti's right shoulder, intending not to hit, but absolutely "at" him. Caminiti twists away without moving his feet. The ball just misses him. He turns back, still doesn't move his feet an inch, and glares out at Pedro, spitting in his direction. He doesn't do the customary "step-out-of-the-box-between-pitches" thing, instead standing there the entire time just rocking his bat back and forth, waiting for him while staring, implicit in his body language- "you didn't knock me back." Which was all well and good except that it more or less guaranteed he had no shot whatsoever of getting a hit from that point forward. That's Pedro.

Fletcher returns the ball and Pedro quickly delivers what looks like a changeup low, in the dirt, maybe thinking that the human science experiment he was looking at would want to nick him back and guess fastball, hoping to knock one out. Caminiti saw past that though, letting it go for a ball. 1 - 2 count.

Caminiti still won't move his feet from the box, which we notice just as we're given a shot of Pedro waiting for Fletcher to collect the ball, dribbling around on the ground. He has that look on his face, the one every Sox fan knows, the look that says "yea, I just threw at you and no, I'm not good at hiding it but I really don't give a shit and I dare you to piss me off because that's what I like." Or maybe I'm reading into it a bit much.

Long break here and we get a shot of all the infielders as TSN color guy and former Expo Ken Singleton talks about how nerve-wracking it can be at the end of the perfect game. Any miscue and you've fucked it up for him. Which ignores the fact that their inability to score a single fucking run against Joey Motherfucking Hamilton has already very much fucked it up for him, but I digress.

Pitch five was a nice running two seamer that Pedro started at Caminiti's belt. Caminiti was able to pull that one foul, although it was a three hopper on the grass. Now Ken feels liberated from the need to make his statement and is loosed from the confines of the batter's box, where he wanders as Pedro ponders his next pitch. We've gone fastball away (foul) fastball way in (foul) fastball wayer in (ball) changeup in the dirt (ball) front-door two seamer (foul). He's got him at 2-2, and he knows that while he still can't seem to hit the big fastball, he will be looking for it. If there was ever a time to bounce a curveball, this was it. Ken's clearly over-anxious, maybe he'll bite.

Instead, Pedro throws another hard fastball far inside and right at Caminiti's belt buckle, called a ball and just barely missing his midsection. Caminiti keeps his feet planted again, and stares out at Pedro. Full count. Walk and the perfect game's over.

Pedro gets the ball, turns right around and rears back with a monster fastball, up and away, clearly ball four but probably real hard to take and it just explodes past Caminiti like a panzer. In both his first two ABs, Caminiti struck out on almost exactly the same pitch (a fact Pedro would take great joy in recalling in the postgame interview)- a time-bending fastball up and away that he just couldn't catch. In both his previous ABs he'd fouled pitches off- but then when Pedro was ready for the AB to be over, it was like he had an extra five feet on his fastball when he wanted it. Like he was playing with him- a reality that must have made the brush-backs even more obnoxious. After both the first two strikeouts Caminiti reacted by slowly putting his bat along the top of his helmet, almost like he was ready to toss it in frustration. The third time he did the same, only paused barely an instant before bringing the bat down hard on his thigh, snapping it just near the label and sauntering back towards the dugout like he was going to find Jody Reed and stab him with both ends.

Now, at this point, Montreal GM Kevin Malone- the guy who would eventually quit because he couldn't stomach the constant fire sale the Expos seemed to be engaged in- was in the booth, and when Caminiti smashed the bat you could hear them all drool and I think I caught one of them moaning. "OHMYGOSH he's such a great competitor. Oh, we love Ken here, just love him. Such fire for that club."

Meanwhile your TWENTY THREE YEAR OLD ACE PITCHER WITH THE PERFECT GAME just blew away the roidhead who was beside himself with chop-licking over his revenge fantasy. But let's definitely talk about the bat-snapping. Caminiti's a god damned upstager! However, Singleton with a great line on the replay- "you're gonna hafta bring a little somethin' extra to the dance tonight if you're gonna catch up with that."

To the Petagine point- I love, after the Petagine Experience in Boston (chronicled here in a frothing nerd-frenzy those years ago), that A) he's even in this game, instead off where he'd end up- in Japan having streets named after him or something- and b) that he starts the game off with an error at 1B. He was so unbelievably, insanely, oddly bad at playing defense. He could totally rake though, I'll give him that.

A really cool moment from the night also came in the 8th inning, with Brad Ausmus batting. In between pitches they had shots of the Montreal bench- which featured manager Felipe Alou and, from what I could see, Jerry Manuel, Jim Tracy, Joe Kerrigan and Tommy Harper. Manuel manages the Mets, Tracy is the interim manager in Colorado, and Joe Kerrigan, former manager of the Boston Red Sox (wowowow), is currently Pittsburgh's pitching coach. Tommy Harper, one of the great base-stealers in Red Sox history, was a first base coach in Boston a couple years back. So we see Alou gesturing to RF Tarrasco, moving him over. The camera catches him, at great pains to get him back a bit and more off the line, which he manages to do just in time. Next pitch- fastball away- and Tarrasco barely has to move to catch the flyball. I saw Felipe Alou in Boston once, and said hello. He was really nice.

One of the best moments of the broadcast was watching the shot they had as Montreal comes off the field in the bottom of the 9th. They entered the beginning of the frame knowing two things:

1. we cannot, cannot, CANNOT fuck this up in any way, shape or form for for this guy for obvious reasons but also because
2. this unfortunately will not cap his effort since we scored him zero runs.

So there was a tempered feel as Pedro finished the 9th, although Tony Tarrasco totally saves the day with a beautiful, leaping catch off a ball hit by Scott Livingstone to RF. Eddie Williams- one of those classic old school "pinch hitters" gets smoked to end it by a fuck-you fastball after watching a paint job four seamer that was so perfectly poured in it made Singleton grunt in the booth (that one I'm actually serious about).

They're all coming off the field, and he's just finished 9 innings of perfect pitching, so they have to congratulate him, but it's also not over and potentially in peril because they couldn't hit a god damn thing themselves all night. So they're giving him the really fervent ass slaps, the heys and hos. But you could sort of sense it from all of them- that has to be embarrassing. You can't deliver a run for a guy throwing a perfect game?! That's just absolutely brutal.

But, he gets the win and, really, he threw nine perfect innings so people like us, who live in the real world, can say he had a perfect game. Sort of.

So yeah, I miss Pedro.

______________________________ |