No. 2 top Latino pitcher: Pedro Martinez

No. 2 top Latino pitcher: Pedro Martinez

No. 2 top Latino pitcher: Pedro Martinez
In a salute to Hispanic Heritage Month, MLB.com posed the following question to some of the most respected authorities on baseball -- men and women who have deep knowledge of Latinos in baseball: Who were the top Latino pitchers in the history of the game? Only retired players could be considered. Based on a compilation of experts' rankings, here is a look at who finished No. 2.

Searching for the perfect words that would best characterize 39-year-old (and can we say retired?) Pedro Martinez, baseball historian Rob Ruck had this to share:

"What stands out for me is Pedro's off-the-field commitment to doing what is best for the Dominican Republic. I think he will make as much of a mark off the field, in his efforts for the youth of his hometown, Manoguayabo, as an ambassador for his country and baseball."

How do you put this extraordinary pitcher's career into its proper perspective? Where do you start?

Let's begin with 219 wins, eight All-Star appearances, three Cy Young awards, an American League pitching Triple Crown and one other significant accomplishment: He's the only Hispanic pitcher to record 3,000 strikeouts, no minor footnote to his baseball resume.

BEST FIVE LATINO PITCHERS
A panel of 20 experts was polled to determine who are the top five retired Latino pitchers of all-time.
No. PITCHER
Overview Best of the best?
No. 5 Fernando Valenzuela
No. 4 Dennis Martinez
No. 3 Luis Tiant
No. 2 Pedro Martinez
No. 1 Juan Marichal

Signed by the Los Angeles Dodgers as an amateur free agent in 1988, Martinez made his Major League debut on Sept. 24, 1992. He would move on to play for four other teams -- the Montreal Expos, Boston Red Sox, New York Mets and Philadelphia Phillies -- but in his 18-year career, his seven seasons in a Red Sox uniform were his most unforgettable. They were magical, and they cemented his reputation as one of the game's all-time best.

When asked to describe Martinez in a few words, Jason Varitek, his former catcher, laughed.

"I don't know if you could really describe Pedro in a few words," Varitek said.

"He's probably the most competitive pitcher I've ever had. He had just an unreal repertoire of stuff. He had an uncanny ability to slow the game down and see the game from the mound."

Of his years in Boston, 1999 was truly a season for the ages. He went 23-4 with a 2.07 ERA and 313 strikeouts in 213 1/3 innings.

And consider this: For a pitcher believed to be shorter than his listed height of 5-foot-11 who threw a 97-mph fastball combined with an oh-so-slow changeup and a knee-buckling curveball, one can only imagine the batter's inner voice saying, "How can someone hit that?"

Voting panel
Peter Bjarkman: Bjarkman, a freelance author, has been a leading expert on baseball in Cuba and other Latin American countries.
Adrian Burgos: Burgos, a history professor at Illinois, was one of 12 members of a Hall of Fame committee that led to the induction of 17 black and Latino players and administrators in 2006.
Dick Clark: Author, historian, SABR member and a member of the 2006 Hall of Fame panel.
Raymond Doswell: Curator for the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum, Doswell has done extensive research on baseball in America and in Latin America and was part of the Hall of Fame panel in 2006.
Leslie Heaphy: A history professor at Kent State, Heaphy has written extensively on the history of baseball, particularly on the Negro Leagues and on women in baseball. She was also on the 2006 Hall of Fame panel.
Bob Kendrick: President of the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum, Kendrick has lectured broadly about black baseball and its role in civil rights.
Larry Lester: One of the founders of the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum was another member of the 2002 Hall of Fame panel.
John Thorn: Thorn is the official historian of MLB. He founded Total Sports Publishing and was its publisher from 1998-2002 and was a consultant for Ken Burns' documentary, "Baseball."
James A. Riley: Author of Biographical Encyclopedia of the Negro Leagues (seminal work in this area) and authority on black baseball.
Luis Rodriguez-Mayoral: A one-time front-office executive with the Rangers and the Tigers, Rodriguez-Mayoral has written and lectured extensively and he has ties to the Clemente family that go back to 1961.

It was no surprise that in his adopted hometown of Boston, Martinez was named the AL starting pitcher in the 1999 All-Star Game. Before this historic matchup, Fenway Park was transformed into a "Field of Dreams."

Hall of Famers who entered the ballpark through the outfield walls were given a hero's welcome as they stood next to the present All-Stars. No one will forget the appearance of Ted Williams, the Boston icon of Mexican-Irish heritage who was chauffeured onto the field and who threw out the ceremonial first pitch.

It's quite possible Williams' presence on the pitcher's mound transformed it into hallowed ground, because Martinez's performance over two innings that night was divine.

He dominated the National League, striking out the first five batters he faced in leading the AL to a 4-1 victory. Martinez was named the game's MVP.

And who can forget another "Martinez Moment" during the 1999 AL Division Series -- a moment from a game against the Cleveland Indians. Some historians say this deciding Game 5 might be one of the best games Martinez ever pitched. He had started the series opener, but had to leave after four shutout innings because of a strained back.

With the series in the balance and the score 8-8 after three innings, Martinez was ready. Because of his back injury in Game 1, he knew if he were going to win, he needed to reinvent himself.

He did. Martinez, entering in relief in the fourth inning, mixed an assortment of slow stuff to hold the Tribe scoreless. He went on to pitch six no-hit innings, leading the Red Sox to their first postseason-series victory since 1986.

Surprisingly, with all the accolades he earned in his career, the lone achievement that Martinez never put on his trophy case was a perfect game or a no-hitter.

He came close, however, to doing the latter.

Yet how can anyone forget the 2004 Red Sox and Martinez -- or, as then-teammate Johnny Damon labeled them, "Idiots" -- for their unbelievable AL Championship Series comeback against the New York Yankees and then their sweep of the St. Louis Cardinals in the World Series.

Thanks in no small part to Martinez, the almost-century-long "Curse of the Bambino" was broken.

"What Pedro accomplished and the way he did it, he was having fun playing baseball," said Uri Berenguer, who broadcast the 2004 Series in Spanish for the Red Sox. "He was a 'happy-go-lucky' person who was a jokester, and when he took to the mound, he was truly the best at it."

Danny Torres is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.