Clubhouse Confidential: Pedro back in Boston

BOSTON – Pedro Martinez seemed to enjoy his hero's welcome Tuesday at Fenway Park, strolling into his favorite Beantown haunt with all of the familiar cheers, chants, hugs and undying autograph requests.

Greeted at his locker by a case of Presidente beer and a frosty bottle of Cristal Champagne, Martinez grinned.

"See what happens when you come home?" Martinez said.

But the room Martinez happened to be standing in was the cramped visitors' clubhouse underneath the third-base seats at Fenway Park, unfamiliar territory in what certainly has been the most familiar of buildings for the seven-year Boston Red Sox icon.

"It's time to get familiar with this," Martinez said. "I've never been on this side."

And, it seemed, Martinez may never have had to vacate his beloved locker in the Red Sox clubhouse, had only ownership cooperated right from the get-go and ponied up the third contract year they eventually offered anyway at the last minute, only to lose Martinez to a standing four-year invitation from the New York Mets.

At least, that was the point Martinez hoped to convey and reiterate, making his first return to the city since helping his 'Idiot' Red Sox to the 2004 World Series championship and ending 86 years of heartache and frustration in Boston.

Cheer me or boo me in my start Wednesday, Martinez told the Red Sox fans. But Martinez wanted to make it clear to the Fenway Faithful that he had never hoped to leave Boston, reiterating a public stance he has made on numerous occasions.

"Every game I had, it seemed like my time in Boston was closing," Martinez said. "And I remember saying, 'I don't want to leave Boston. I don't want to leave Boston.'

"For business, that was a bad word. I think that's what affected the Red Sox and the way they negotiated with me. I guess they took that into consideration: 'Well, if he doesn't want to leave Boston, he'll take whatever we give him.'"

It didn't quite work that way. The final offer the Red Sox made happened to be a last-minute, three-year deal worth $40.5 million.

Promising to build a championship team around him, Mets general manager Omar Minaya wooed Martinez with an extra season and more money, signing a four-year, $53 million agreement on Dec. 16, 2004; less than two months after Martinez had circled the Charles River in a duck boat, wearing a Dominican flag bandana and indelibly creating what the ace would later call his favorite Red Sox memory.

"[Going to the Mets] was difficult for me, because I had all of my interests in Boston," Martinez said. "I was stupid enough to say that I was in love with Boston and I didn't want to leave. [The Red Sox] could tell that I was sensitive about it and that I was kind of fragile, flexible that way.

"That's probably what messed up everything. They waited and they waited and at the last moment, they thought I was going to be there. That was a big mistake."

Martinez will get a chance to further prove his point on Wednesday, facing off against his former mates for the first time – an assignment, for the record, that Martinez would rather not have taken. Pitching against the Blue Jays in Toronto or the Yankees in the Bronx would have been preferable.

"I still have very close friendships with guys like David (Ortiz), Manny (Ramirez), (Jason) Varitek," Martinez said. "It's hard for me to face them. They were my true family when I was on a baseball field and in the clubhouse. It's always hard to actually bring negatives to happen to a family member. To me, those guys are family."

In any event, Martinez had something of a test run facing Kevin Millar and the Baltimore Orioles last weekend at Shea Stadium. He said the goofball first baseman had forced the sometimes-stoic Martinez to crack a smile every time up.

"He made me laugh every at-bat," Martinez said. "So there's no way I can hold a straight face with David, Manny, Trot Nixon and the rest of those guys."

Whatever happens Wednesday, and whatever the fan reaction – the smart money is on a rousing standing ovation, judging by the early arrivals at Fenway on Tuesday – Martinez's legacy as a Red Sox is intact.

The numbers and accomplishments would stand on their own – three Cy Young Awards, all with Boston, and five All-Star selections with the Red Sox, including the MVP of the 1999 All-Star Game at Fenway Park, the season Martinez won the pitching Triple Crown by finishing 23-4 with a 2.07 ERA and 313 strikeouts.

Martinez shrugged off the numbers. Seemingly delighted by the inquiry, his lasting impact, he said, would be the party environment that infiltrated a polite-but-subdued Fenway Park, seemingly from the moment Martinez first donned that red 'B'.

"The atmosphere, from being just claps and boos, changed to music," Martinez said. "[It] changed to a fun place to be. It's like a good bar. When it opens and the atmosphere seems to be more fun than any other place? That's exactly what happened in Boston.

"The way it used to be, you'd get claps when you did good and boos when you didn't. In the seven years I was here, I got to see how Boston took a different spin at the stadium. You'd see Dominican flags going up and down, the 'K Crew.'

"That was a great feeling. That's something I miss, that type of atmosphere. So close to the players, but yet, such fun. The music, the people, the hype, and eventually the way we played the game. I think that'll be my legacy."

* * *

Call it the Mets' first postseason prediction, sort of. And credit to none other than Pedro himself, who must be absolutely elated to see the Mets' promises of a competitive, young core coming to fruition.

Jose Reyes has earned National League Player of the Week honors for the second consecutive week, and Martinez gushed last week that Wright was quickly becoming the Mets' MVP.

"This is a team that's, right now, on the brink of becoming a championship team," Martinez said. "Right now, if we stay healthy, we're going to win. After we win, I don't think anybody will want to change a good thing going."

* * *

Mets general manager Omar Minaya said that outfielder Cliff Floyd (sprained ankle) would play in a Gulf Coast League contest Tuesday night in Port St. Lucie, Fla.

The Mets had held out hope Floyd would join them in Boston, but that is beginning to look increasingly less likely, as Minaya said a rehab stint at Triple-A Norfolk could be a possibility.

"We've come so far waiting for [Floyd] to be ready, we're not going to put a timetable on it," Minaya said.

* * *

Floyd's slow return can be interpreted as more good news for Lastings Milledge, who made the start Tuesday in left field.

The bad news? Milledge would have to take his crash course with the Green Monster, trying to get a read on its rebounds during batting practice. Randolph wasn't expecting the 21-year-old to master the wall in one night.

"It takes years to master that wall out there," Randolph said. "Even Yaz (Carl Yastrzemski) and Jim Rice didn't do that overnight."

Contact Inside Pitch's Bryan Hoch at metsinsidepitch@aol.com.


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