Wednesday, April 02, 2008

The Arms (and Heads) of the Mets

Stephen Rodrick has a terrifically entertaining piece in this week's New York magazine about the Mets' 2008 starting rotation. On the front end, of course, is soft-spoken Johan Santana, the best pitcher in the sport over the past four years, who the Mets signed in the offseason. Rodrick on Santana:
A month into spring training, the Twins are still grieving for the guy who draws smiley faces on the brim of his cap and preps for his starts by playing against the opposing team on Xbox. (He still does. “Those games are very realistic about the batter’s strengths and weaknesses,” Santana told me.)
At the back end, there's Orlando Hernandez, who, as Roderick writes, "is 38, 42, or 59, depending on which birth certificate you believe." He's likely nearing his final days on the mound.

In the middle, there's John Maine ("Maine exudes a humility you’d want in a friend but not necessarily a Game 7 starter.") and the talented-but-erratic Oliver Perez.

In the middle with them is Pedro Martinez, the most compelling story on the team. Coming off a bad shoulder injury, and 36 years old, Martinez is a wild card. In his prime, he was the best (and most electrifying) pitcher of his generation, with pure heat that rivaled Randy Johnson and a chess-like mentality that matched Greg Maddux. If you're a baseball fan, it will mean something to you that he posted back-to-back ERAs of 2.07 and 1.74 in the American League. That's sick.

He's always been a character/head case, too, which is one reason I like him only slightly less for his ridiculous role in the Yankees-Red Sox brawl of '03. Rodrick doesn't mince words about the crazy part:
Three Cy Youngs and 209 wins in, Martinez is clearly nuts, Brian Wilson–in–a–sandbox nuts. But this spring it’s a happy nuts.
He watches Martinez take the mound one day during spring training:
Now it’s Martinez’s turn. Things look immediately brighter and weirder. It’s blustery out, so Martinez, gardener and cockfighting enthusiast, breaks into a mournful version of Bob Seger’s “Against the Wind.” He only knows the title line. “Against the wind, against the wind,” he sings atonally.

On the mound, Martinez flings off his cap and waves for the pitcher’s cage—in place to prevent $13 million-a-year pitchers from being disabled by line drives—to be removed.

“C’mon, there’s no crying in baseball, let’s play baseball,” he says.
There's no crying in cockfighting, either.

Martinez eventually shows a more contemplative side:
A few mornings later, it was Martinez’s turn to throw again. Afterward, he was in a melancholy mood. ... When I asked him about his rehabbed shoulder, he was succinct. “It feels really good,” said Martinez, trying not to sound too hopeful. “If it goes, I’m done. No more rehab.” He gave a sad half-smile. “It makes my life easier. You just go out there, leave it all out there, and hand yourself to God and see what happens.”
When Martinez leaves the game for good, it will be a sad (if saner) day.


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