(Long Island, NY) Some players just bring ‘it’ to a team. That certain flair and air of confidence. The rest of the clubhouse can just feel it when that type of player is in their midst. All winning teams need this player to not only be healthy, but to be a major contributor.
Although the Mets have a plethora of talent, Pedro Martinez is that guy on this team. When he went on the disabled list in 2006, missing him may have been the difference between losing Game 7 of the National League Championship Series and the Mets winning their first pennant in two decades.
And during the infamous September collapse last season, Martinez had just come back from his long layoff following shoulder surgery and was the only effective pitcher on the Mets, starter or reliever. Even he couldn’t do it alone.
If you still need more proof, look at how the Mets have been so inconsistent without their number two starter. Since going down in the second game of the season with a pulled hamstring, Martinez has had to watch from afar as the clubhouse – his clubhouse – was in complete disarray, especially during the third week of May as the Willie Randolph situation nearly came to a head.
Making his first start in over two months this past Tuesday in San Francisco, Martinez did more than bring a presence to the team. He pitched six innings of seven-hit ball, surrendering three runs but getting key outs, stranding Giants on the basepaths when it appeared that they may get to him. The Mets won the game, 9-6, to erase the blowout loss the previous night.
Staff ace Johan Santana realizes the difference when Martinez is here. “It’s good to have him back,” the lefthander told reporters. “It’s a big plus. We need him.”
With every start, the Mets brass has to hold their breath and hope that Martinez will walk away unscathed. So far, so good with this one. “I came off the field in the same shape I went on,” Martinez said to reporters after the win, the 210th of his career against only 93 losses.
If the Mets are to turn things around before the season slips away any further, they will need Martinez to stick around the rest of the way. Through the dog days and stretch run. He is a money pitcher, regardless of how old he gets and how many injuries he sustains. The 36 year-old is in the final year of a four-year free agent deal that he signed with the Mets in 2005. After winning 15 games in his first campaign in Flushing, the wins have dwindled down to nine and three in each of the following seasons for Martinez.
At the beginning of the year, the Mets were looked at as a strong contender for the top spot in the NL East, along with the Phillies and possibly Braves. The Marlins have surprised everyone by maintaining either first or second place most of the way. The Mets have hovered around the .500 mark in third or fourth place. With June upon us, it is time to put up or shut up. There is no clear-cut runaway for either the division or the wild card, for that matter. Either is definitely winnable, especially with the strong staff the Mets have when all are healthy. Santana and Martinez top it off, and John Maine and Oliver Perez can be counted on, with Maine more consistent than the lefty Perez. The fifth and final spot has been interchangeable all year, and as long as the Claudio Vargases and Mike Pelfreys of the world can give the team a shot in the arm when needed, the Mets should be able to correct their mistakes of the first third of the season and get back to where they should be.
But it all may hinge on the surgically repaired shoulder of a 17-year Dominican hurler with the million-dollar smile.