MLB.com Columnist

Lindsay Berra

#TBT: The best performance of Pedro's career

Even the stars in the Yankees' dugout were stunned by Martinez

#TBT: The best performance of Pedro's career

Pedro Martinez was cranky.

It was Sept. 10, 1999, and the 27-year-old Boston Red Sox ace was carrying a 20-4 record into his Friday night appearance against the New York Yankees in the Bronx. The Sox had had Thursday off, and Martinez, who often traveled ahead of the team to get ready for series-opening starts, had been forced to fly with the team instead of earlier on his own.

Martinez had pitched against the Yankees in May and beaten the same lineup, 6-3, giving up 10 hits in seven innings. The Sox had played the Yanks in late July, taking two of three games. Martinez figured he was well-versed enough on these Yankees to skip Joe Kerrigan's meeting for pitchers in favor of soaking in the Jacuzzi to get his body ready to pitch. But his pitching coach disagreed.

"Joe said to me, 'If you're not coming to the meeting, you'd better figure out how to get Derek Jeter out, he's hitting .300 off of you,'" Martinez recalls. "I was already cranky, and I got even worse after that. I told Joe he could take his meeting and Jeter's bat and stick it somewhere. So I went out with a chip on my shoulder that night."

That "chip" led to one of the greatest pitching performances in history.

Martinez's 1999 season was stellar. He finished with a league-best 2.07 ERA and a career-high 313 strikeouts. Martinez was the last American League pitcher to strike out 300 batters in a season; he led the league again with 284 whiffs in 2000 -- the next most by an AL hurler since then is Yu Darvish, with 277 in 2013.

RSR: Celebrating Pedro Martinez

At the 1999 All-Star Game, Martinez struck out the first four National League batters he faced, becoming the first pitcher in history to begin the Midsummer Classic by striking out the side. In two innings, he struck out five of the six batters he faced, and he was voted the game MVP.

Martinez finished second in the 1999 AL MVP Award voting to Rangers catcher Ivan Rodriguez, though the public outcry that he should have won was both loud and warranted. Martinez did, however, win his second Cy Young Award that season, joining Randy Johnson, Roger Clemens and Gaylord Perry in the elite club of pitchers to win the award in both the NL and the AL.

But the righty's outing on Sept. 10 was undoubtedly the highlight of his season.

Martinez, who says he was feeling uncomfortable physically to start the game, plunked Chuck Knoblauch, the very first batter he faced.

"I still swear I didn't hit him," Martinez says. "I nibbled his jersey. I think he faked it. Had I known, I would have hit him square in the ribs."

Knoblauch, though, was promptly caught stealing, and Martinez followed by striking out Jeter, who swung and missed a 97-mph fastball. He'd get Jeter again, looking, in the seventh. Martinez's only mistake came in the form a solo home run off the bat of Yanks DH Chili Davis in the bottom of the second inning. The shot flew to deep right-center field.

It was the only hit Martinez gave up that night.

Pedro's Cooperstown Speech

"Pedro was dominant," Davis recalled. "He knew he had good stuff, and he came out early with a challenge-type mentality. I think he threw all fastballs the first couple of innings and then started mixing in the 14 different sliders and the 22 different curveballs and the 10 different changeups he threw from 15 different arm angles. He was difficult to hit because he never allowed you to get real comfortable at the plate. You couldn't lock in on an arm slot with him. It's like he invented pitches out there."

"I'm glad I got that hit and glad it wasn't a no-hitter, but I [ticked] him off," Davis continued. "He started pitching after that."

Martinez has similar recollections of Davis' home run.

"I remember watching that ball go out, and it was a bomb," he said. "I remember saying exactly that, out loud, in Spanish. 'Whoa, what a bomb.' After that, I was angry and I just took over."

Martinez would end up with a career-high 17 strikeouts -- the most by any pitcher, ever, against the Yankees. Not even Bob Feller, Walter Johnson or Nolan Ryan could claim more. He would throw 120 pitches in a complete game, extending his streak of at least one strikeout per inning to 40 innings. Martinez beat Andy Pettitte, 3-1, and improved his record to 21-4.

Pedro's big brother, pitcher Ramon Martinez, was on the Red Sox's bench that day.

"The first inning, he started off fine," Ramon said. "Then, he slipped a little in the second inning, and then nobody could touch him."

Favorite Pedro moments

The Yanks' dugout was eerily quiet, full of stars -- Jeter, Paul O'Neill, Bernie Williams, Tino Martinez, Joe Girardi -- who were simply befuddled by Martinez's performance.

"All I remember is we had no chance," said Yankees GM Brian Cashman.

No chance, because Martinez's fastball, curve and changeup were all humming; he threw 80 of those 120 pitches for strikes.

New York's Darryl Strawberry pinch-hit in the bottom of the ninth inning, struck out swinging on four pitches and later admitted, "I didn't really have a plan. I had no clue."

Yanks manager Joe Torre said Martinez was "as close to unhittable as you can find," and drew comparisons to greats Bob Gibson and Sandy Koufax.

Red Sox manager Jimy Williams said it was the best pitching performance he had ever seen. And David Cone, less than two months removed from throwing his perfect game, agreed.

So, incredibly, did many of the 55,239 fans who packed Yankee Stadium that day. Yes, there were many Boston fans in attendance with the red accents on their jerseys, caps and T-shirts was clearly visible in the stands. Some of Fenway's famous K-men, who hang K's from the railing in the upper deck in Boston, had even made their way to New York with their signs.

Kevin McCarthy of the K-Men

But by the end of the game, even the pinstripe faithful were applauding Martinez, and it wasn't just his Dominican compatriots.

"Those are people who like to see a good game and a good pitching performance," Martinez said. "It was a sign of respect and I loved it."

Martinez is still quick to point out that he grew up a Yankee fan, he idolized Reggie Jackson and he once spent his last $250 on an autographed Jackson ball in an auction at Dodger Stadium while visiting Ramon.

"I had to borrow money to get back to instructional league," Martinez said.

With that background, hearing fans cheering for him in the Bronx made Martinez's heart swell.

Of course, not so much, though, as proving Kerrigan wrong.

"He's a prime-time player," Kerrigan said postgame. "That's just about as good as it gets."

Lindsay Berra is a columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.