He was 16 years old and didn't speak much English when the Dodgers signed him to a professional contract in 1988. They knew a little something about Pedro Martinez. Big brother Ramon was already in the Dodger system and pitched in the majors before the end of the 1988 season. When Pedro was still 16, he went 5-1 with a 3.10 earned run average in eight starts for the Dodgers' Dominican summer league club.
Over the next five years he came to America, mastering his craft and a new language. He worked hard at his English during the interminable bus rides in the Pioneer League. He worked even harder on his changeup and his breaking ball and he made it to the big leagues in 1992, then went 10-5 for the Dodgers in `93. But they never projected him as a starting pitcher. Too small. Too fragile. The organization that produced Koufax, Drysdale, and Sutton could not see the greatness of Pedro Martinez.
They made him a middle reliever and Pedro came out of the bullpen 63 times for manager Tom Lasorda in 1993. He was traded to Montreal after that season -- straight up for the immortal Delino DeShields -- and he has never forgotten the slight.
In case you have not noticed, Pedro Martinez is a proud man. His most valued currency is respect. He has never forgiven Lasorda and still holds a grudge against the Dodgers. Since the trade was made, Martinez is 163-64 and has won three Cy Young Awards.
Last night he got to pitch against the Dodgers at Fenway for the first time in his career and he beat his old team, 4-1, with seven innings of seven-hit, one-run pitching. He threw 113 pitches, 75 for strikes, raising his record to 7-3 while lowering his ERA to 3.77.
"I just didn't like the comments they made about being too small, and not being able to last 200 innings," Martinez said afterward. "It was good being able to prove them wrong . . . But I don't think anyone I played with is still on the team. Just some coaches."
Too bad Lasorda wasn't at Fenway last night. In addition to guys like Karim Garcia, Pedro loves knocking down straw men and Lasorda is a bad guy in Pedro's world. Alas, Lasorda (who threw out a first pitch Saturday) left town before the series finale. Vin Scully and Sandy Koufax also bailed on Boston after two games, but owner Frank McCourt was in the house and we wonder if he'll be a suitor when Pedro becomes a free agent after this season. Earlier this year, Pedro left the door ajar for a return to Los Angeles, saying, "The Dodgers don't have the same people [read, former general manager Fred Claire and Lasorda] that were there when I was mistreated. I'm open to anybody."
The big-haired ace is looking more like his old self these days. He pitched eight innings of two-hit, shutout ball against the Padres last Tuesday and was throwing in the 93-mile-per-hour range again yesterday. The Dodgers bled him for a run on three singles in the first, but he fanned Dave Roberts on a 93-m.p.h. heater in the third, impressing the usual sellout and ESPN's Sunday night audience.
"I was dragging a little at the beginning," said Martinez. "But I was able to click and make pitches and be consistent with the things I wanted to do. I'm looking at it positively and I'm going to continue to work."
He retired seven straight batters after Shawn Green's two-out single in the first. He ended the streak with a walk to Milton Bradley to open the fourth. Pedro picked Bradley off and we almost had a Carl Everett moment when the combustible Bradley argued with umpire Mark Carlson. After the commotion, Martinez got into another jam, surrendering a double and a walk to the next two batters, but he fanned Adrian Beltre (93 m.p.h.) and got Juan Encarnacion on a grounder to short to end the threat. He was up to 72 pitches after four and the Sox put him ahead, 4-1, with three runs in the bottom of the inning -- knocking out Hideo Nomo along the way.
There was a time when Pedro was virtually unbeatable with a three-run lead. That's certainly what He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named believed when he sent Martinez out to the mound to pitch the eighth inning in New York last fall (and can we for just a little longer close our eyes and ignore what the Yankees are doing these days?).
Pedro's final pitch resulted in one of the more spectacular plays of the season, when Pokey Reese tried to kiss the sky and came down with a sizzling liner by Roberts. It was headed for the gap and with two men aboard and two out would have been trouble.
"It's Pokey's game today and he deserves all the credit," said a smiling Pedro.
No longer unbeatable, Martinez is looking more and more like the pitcher who's won 108 games for the Red Sox. He certainly appeared to be on a mission last night. Pedro never forgets and he wasn't going to lose to the Los Angeles Dodgers, the team that gave up on him all those years ago.
Dan Shaughnessy is a Globe columnist. His e-mail address is email@example.com.