When researching a piece I wrote a few weeks ago that featured a benches-clearing brawl sparked by the inner turmoil of Tampa Bay Devils Outfielder Gerald Williams, I came across this clip.
This is Pedro Martinez early in his career pitching for the fabled 1994 Montreal Expos. On this night, April 13th, 1994, Pedro Martinez is pitching well, extremely well. For the last 7.1 innings, Pedro has not allowed a single Cincinnati Reds hitter to get on base.
Pedro Martinez is throwing a Perfect Game.
Perfect games do not happen every day. In fact, since the turn of the millennium, we’ve only seen seven pitchers do it, eight if you count Armando Galarraga‘s Jim Joyce ruined perfecto. The last perfect game happened in 2012 when Felix Hernandez blanked the Rays. So to say that Pedro is five outs from etching his name in the history books is not too far off. All he has to do is continue dominating the Reds.
And the man at the plate has been dominated all night.
Reggie Sanders, much like Pedro, is in the infancy of his lengthy MLB career. Now beginning his second full season in the bigs, Reggie has become known for one thing: striking out.
In his first full MLB season, Sanders came in third for most strikeouts by a National League Rookie, behind Jeff Conine and Al Martin. While strikeouts in today’s game are far more common due to the game’s penchant for launch angle and fly balls, in 1993, striking out over 100 times over a season was a lot. And when you’re the strikeout king of the team, that’s not a good look either.
And Sanders was already getting guff from Reds fans about his strikeouts in 1994.
On Opening Day against the St. Louis Cardinals, Sanders came up to the plate with two outs, the bases loaded up with his teammates, and the Reds down two runs. A single potentially ties the game. That’s it. All it takes is a single. And in front of 32,803 screaming Cincinnati supporters at home in Riverfront Stadium, Reggie Sanders struck out swinging on a full count. the Reds would go on to lose that game 6-4.
Reggie Sanders has struck out in every game except for one this season, after the umpires called the Cardinals series finale due to rain. And despite that fact, Sanders is coming into tonight against the Expos as the Reds best hitter, slashing .355/.375/.742, with an OPS of 1.117. This is a struggle between who Reggie Sanders wants to be and who he’s perceived to be by the fans.
And that’s where Pedro comes in.
Pedro Martinez is known for a doing a multitude of things at an elite level over his career. Pedro is probably the most well-known for his 1999 and 2000 seasons, where he threw his hat in the ring for greatest pitcher of all time. However, did you know that while Pedro loved striking out batters, he also loved hitting them?
In his career, Pedro had more seasons where he plunked 10+ hitters than Justin Verlander, Zack Greinke, and Max Scherzer COMBINED. Pedro knew the power of throwing inside, much like Bob Gibson, and he came out and said as much in his self-titled autobiography Pedro.
“[Red Sox Teammate Derek Lowe] told me he figured that when I hit batters, it was an accident 90% of the time. He was 100% wrong. When I hit a batter, it was 90% intentional.” – Pedro Martinez, Hall of Fame
Now, I fully believe that in the later years of his career, this was true. But in 1994? With a perfect game within his grasp? Against Reggie Sanders? No way. There’s no way this was intentional.
So why does this violent act get an even more violent response from Reggie Sanders? Because this is the third time Pedro has come way inside on a two-strike count in this game, getting him swinging both times.
Reggie Sanders, who is fighting to shed the mantle of strikeout king of Cincinnati, has been pantsed twice at the hands of Pedro Martinez and his sweet, sweet chin music. And now, he has actually hit him, adding literal insult to injury. But, you know what?
Pedro Martinez simply doesn’t care.
After the pitch hits Sanders’ upper arm, Pedro doesn’t look at him. No, instead he looks upwards to the heavens as if asking some higher power “Why? Why now? I’m five outs away.” And then his gaze returns to Sanders, who is now halfway to the mound, with his catcher Darrin Fletcher in hot pursuit.
Does Pedro square up to face him? Does he plant himself, bracing for the impact of Sanders full weight hurdling towards him?
No. He stands there.
For a brief moment in time, Pedro Martinez looks Reggie Sanders in the eye and does absolutely nothing. Never has anyone in the history of the world been so calm in the face of a full-grown man running full speed at them, but there’s also never been another Pedro Martinez. And that’s because Pedro Martinez doesn’t care.
After playing with his brother (and starting a feud with Mike Piazza) in Los Angeles, Pedro was shipped to Montreal for Delino DeShields. The 1993 Expos finished second in the NL West, and had a spot available for Pedro immediately, so it was definitely an upgrade. So this is Pedro’s second start for his new team, and the 5th start of his career, and he’s throwing a perfect game.
Do you think he cares about any of this? A man who was just ripped from his brother, in a new city, playing for a new team, has just pitched 7.1 perfect frames? No way.
There is a man who he has embarrassed all night, to the tune of two swinging strikes, charging at him. And for brief moment there’s ice in his veins.
While many other pitchers would have squared up the second a hitter starts their way, Pedro waits until the last moment.
Because Pedro Martinez doesn’t care.
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