Jason Varitek was 25 when Pedro Martinez was traded to the Red Sox from the Expos.
In just the second year of his major league career, the catcher was behind the plate for Martinez’s second start as a member of the Red Sox against the Angels on April 6, 1998. When he pitched in Game 3 of the 2004 World Series for his final Red Sox start, Varitek caught that too.
“You look back and it’s just an opportunity,” he said. “I was so young … it was the most memorable moments that I had to do behind the plate. You don’t appreciate how good someone is until you play your entire career and you don’t really see it again.”
“He had the physical tools with an exploding fastball, location of it, the ability to change speeds, a devastating changeup developed into the same curveball,” Varitek added. “He had plus pitches across the board, but that only goes so far unless you have the competitiveness and the heart that he had when he pitched, and it made him who he was.”
He was emotional when Martinez gave his Hall of Fame induction speech Sunday, sitting in front of the television for three and a half hours so he wouldn’t miss a thing.
“You just kept waiting, waiting, waiting, and he took the stage, but it showed what heart he has for both the United States and for his home, the Dominican …” Varitek said. “I’m just so proud and happy for him. It’s his moment, his time and so well deserved.”
There isn’t a whole lot of space on the right field deck for very many retired numbers, and that, to Varitek, speaks volumes of just how big it really is to have No. 45 go up there Tuesday night.
“It’s huge,” he said. “I mean you look on that board, and there’s only a few, there’s only room for a few [numbers], and deservedly so that Pedro’s is going to go right up there with them.”
In Martinez’s seven years with the Red Sox, Varitek said he gained baseball knowledge working in tandem with him because of how special he was as a pitcher and how well he could read and react to a game.
“His ability made him different,” he said. “His ability to read hitters from the mound in pressure situations, read swings, make those adjustments along with his competitiveness made him elite. He had the repertoire, but not everybody can see the game as slowly and the ability from the mound that he could, and I do truly believe that’s where I would learn from him.”
While the right-hander had his fair share of impressive games throughout his career, his battery mate noted that each night Martinez toed the rubber, there was a chance that things could become memorable fast.
“Everybody wants to pick the game in New York between him and Roger [Clemens], but you have opportunities,” Varitek said. “He’s had games against Cleveland. He’s had games against Anaheim, 1-0, and with some exploding offenses there too. I think the rest of our ERA for our starting staff was about 4 1/2 innings, and he’d go out there and he’d average 7 1/2, eight, whatever it was, and it was a bullpen day off, which didn’t happen too too often. His best moment was almost every time he took the mound.”
Now that they’ve both finished their playing careers, Martinez and Varitek have positions within the Red Sox organization, working as special assistants to general manager Ben Cherington. But while their job titles are similar, Varitek said they don’t often run into one another, though he loves it when they do.
“I love seeing him,” he said. “I love the impact, his knowledge, every time he speaks about pitching you want to put an ear in there and listen because he struggled. He’s been through struggles, so it wasn’t always easy for him. He understands the different levels and trying to work toward seeing the light at the end of the tunnel and perfecting your craft, but along the way also not ever quitting and be determined towards that and don’t fall short of your own dreams. I think he does am excellent job of portraying that.
“He had some gifts and ability to manipulate that baseball that only he can relate that sometimes to pitchers to where it comes out of Pedro Martinez‘s mouth, then somebody’s going to listen.”