CLEARWATER, Fla. - He has pitched in the World Series and All-Star Games. He has won Cy Young Awards. He has pitched in front of packed houses in big-league stadiums.
Any resemblance between those outings and the rehab start Pedro Martinez made for the Class A Clearwater Threshers yesterday at Bright House Field was purely coincidental.
Yet, in its own way, this one carried a load of significance. Martinez, 37, is on the comeback trail. He went 5-6 with a 5.61 earned run average for the Mets last year. No team wanted him last winter. No team wanted him through the spring and early summer, until the Phillies came calling.
This is his chance, maybe his final chance, for a last hurrah.
But if there was any disappointment that his first game appearance since Sept. 25 of last year, excluding his stint in the World Baseball Classic this spring, was abruptly cut short after 1 1/3 innings by a heavy downpour, he didn't show it.
"You want me to sing a song? Blame it on the rain . . . " he warbled. "I'm satisfied. I'm not going to go against Mother Nature."
He threw 24 pitches, 12 for strikes, against the St. Lucie Mets. He gave up a hit, hit a batter, had a strikeout. Then he went to the indoor cage under the rightfield stands and threw three simulated innings of 20 pitches each.
Next stop: Lehigh Valley. He will join the Triple A IronPigs and throw in the bullpen tomorrow. Presumably his next start would be for Lehigh Valley, although that hasn't officially been announced.
The only disappointment, he said, was that he thought he was just getting into a groove when the rain turned the field into a quagmire.
"I was pacing myself in the first inning," he said. "You only settle down after the first inning. I wanted that second inning. In that second inning, I was ready to really go at it, but it just didn't happen. I was excited to let it go."
But he stressed that he didn't view his truncated outing as a setback.
"No, because I felt good. Real good," he said.
Threshers manager Ernie Whitt said Martinez' fastball was consistently 87 to 90 mph. A scout watching from behind the plate said it topped out at 92.
The best pitch he threw was the changeup he used to strikeout Mets first baseman Stefan Welch to end the first inning.
After getting two quick outs, Martinez hit shortstop Reese Havens with a pitch and gave up a bloop single to rightfielder Carlos Guzman.
After the count ran to 3-1, Welch fouled off three straight pitches before Welch went down swinging on the change.
"That's the changeup you're used to seeing," Whitt said. "He was probably a little rusty, too. It's still tough to judge at this point in time, but I'm sure he's going to be just fine."
The start of the game was delayed 41 minutes by rain. But by the time Martinez took the mound to start the second, a heavy rain was falling again. He got an out on his first pitch then went 2-1 to third baseman Zach Lutz before the umpires had the tarp rolled onto the field. Shortly afterward, the announcement was made that the game had been postponed.
St. Lucie manager Tim Teufel had an interesting vantage point to judge Pedro's progress. He held the same position on May 28, 2008, when Martinez made a rehab start for the Class A Mets.
"He looked like he was just getting tuned up," Teufel said. "I was looking forward to seeing him pitch three or four more innings. But he looked good out there. Physically fit? Yes. He did well."
Because the game was postponed, no official attendance was announced, although it was clear the Threshers sold more tickets than normal for a Sunday game. And, as if to underscore that something important was happening, Martinez was accompanied from the bullpen after warming up by pitching coach Dave Lundquist, catcher Orlando Guevara . . . and a uniformed policeman. When he got to the dugout, he fist-bumped Phinley, the Theshers' mascot.
After walking slowly to the mound, he stepped back, squatted and bowed his head. "That was dedicated to my dad [who died last summer]. I wanted to take that time to pray for him and pray for his soul," Martinez said. "His last words to me were that he wanted me to play ball."
Martinez made it clear when he signed with the Phillies that he had wanted to return to the Mets. So it was quite a coincidence that he ended up starting his comeback against their Class A farm team, a club wearing the familiar script "Mets" on the front of its road uniforms.
"It's interesting," he said softly. "You know, I guess God has a destiny for everything. It's really interesting that my first rehab outing happened to be against the Mets, for the team that's supposed to be the biggest rival for the Mets. That was the team that really came to get me and the other team is the team I was playing for. So it was interesting, even though I know that those kids are not the ones that I would be facing [in the big leagues]." *