ANAHEIM, Calif. -- He enraptured the region, a charismatic and passionately competitive superstar whose pitching brilliance helped the Red Sox enter the 21st century as one of the most fearsome teams in baseball and vault them in October to their first world championship in 86 years. Now he is gone.
Pedro Martinez, one of the most dominant pitchers and popular Latino athletes in New England history, yesterday dissolved his seven-year relationship with the Sox as he agreed to a four-year contract with the New York Mets that will guarantee him an estimated $54 million.
The deal remained contingent on Martinez passing a physical later this week, but the Sox resigned themselves to losing the three-time Cy Young Award winner who helped lead them to the postseason in four of his seven years in Boston. He departed in his first opportunity as a free agent.
"We wish Pedro nothing but the best going forward both on the field and off the field," Sox principal owner John W. Henry said. "He has earned everything he has accomplished, including his World Series ring and his reputation as one of the greatest who ever lived."
The Sox, who invested $92 million in Martinez after they acquired him for two minor leaguers from the Montreal Expos in 1997, waged a strenuous effort to retain him in their quest for a second straight world championship. They believed they succeeded when they heeded his request to guarantee him $40.5 million over three years plus a $13.5 million option for 2008.
But the Mets, in a stunning development, outbid by the Sox at the last minute by sweetening their offer from a guaranteed three years at $37.5 million with a $12.5 million option to the final four-year package.
At that, Martinez left Boston's final offer on the table. He confirmed to several friends last night that he accepted the offer from the Mets.
"He's extremely happy," said one close friend who asked not to identified.
The Sox lost their pursuit of Martinez by standing by their opposition to guaranteeing a four-year contract to the 32-year-old righthander, who suffered a small tear in the labrum of his pitching shoulder in 2001 and opted to treat the injury with a strength and conditioning program rather than surgery.
"We put our absolute best foot forward," general manager Theo Epstein said before he received the final word of Martinez's decision. "We've tried to keep Pedro Martinez in a way that makes sense for the ballclub. The team comes first, always. That said, he's been a great contributor. If the [team's final offer] was not enough, we wish him the absolute best."
The Sox concluded that committing as much as $54 million through 2008 to a pitcher of Martinez's age and condition was too costly, considering the team's other needs. Martinez will turn 37 in 2008. His brother, Ramon, a former righthanded pitcher for the Sox, retired in 2001 at age 33 because of a shoulder injury.
"I'm disappointed that Pedro is leaving for the National League and the Mets," Sox president and CEO Larry Lucchino said. "He was a larger-than-life figure and made a gigantic contribution to the Red Sox. I will miss him both personally and professionally."
The Sox were satisfied they granted every demand of Martinez's except guaranteeing him the contract would run through 2008.
"We're obviously disappointed he took the Mets' deal, but we met his requests: We guaranteed the third year," Sox chairman Tom Werner said. "This will not deter us from finding a solution to reach our championship goals."
Though their negotiations with Martinez endured so long that one of their other top free agent targets, Carl Pavano, instructed his agent to negotiate a deal with the Yankees, the Sox insisted they would not suffer by losing one of the best pitchers in franchise history. Martinez went 117-37 with a 2.52 ERA for the Sox, though his performance declined last season, when he went 16-9 with a career-high 3.90 ERA.
One of the most colorful but contentious pitchers in Sox lore, Martinez leads all active pitchers in the majors with a 2.71 ERA and .705 winning percentage. He ranks among the active leaders in wins (182), strikeouts (2,653) and shutouts (16), among other categories. But the Sox believe they are one solid pitcher short of potentially matching the effectiveness of last year's starting rotation if their offense continues to rank among the most productive in the game.
Martinez and Derek Lowe, who also will depart through free agency, pitched a combined 399 2/3 innings last season with a 4.64 ERA. They already have conditionally signed David Wells, who went 12-8 with a 4.03 ERA over 195 2/3 innings last season for the Padres. They are seeking another pitcher of similar or greater ability to fill the rest of the void, with free agent righthander Matt Clement and Marlins righthander A.J. Burnett among the candidates. The Sox would need to trade for Burnett.
Amid fierce competition for Oakland star Tim Hudson, the Sox have fallen out of contention since they have been unable to match the talent the A's are likely to command from other contenders. Boston also has no chance of landing another elite pitcher who is available, Arizona's Randy Johnson.
With Martinez gone, however, the Sox have more money to spend on a shortstop and were making a strong push for Edgar Renteria, the All-Star who helped lead the Cardinals to the World Series. They also remain in touch with Orlando Cabrera in case Renteria returns to the Cardinals.
The Sox have ended their brief interest in another potential high-priced acquisition, former All-Star first baseman Carlos Delgado. But they remain committed to trying to re-sign catcher Jason Varitek, and though they made some progress at the winter meetings, which ended last night, they have yet to address Varitek's final demand of a no-trade clause. Varitek's agent, Scott Boras, said the issue has been deferred until the end of their negotiations.
As Martinez's primary catcher since 1999, Varitek was one of Martinez's chief supporters. He caught Martinez while the former Sox ace won American League Cy Young Awards in 1999 and 2000 (Martinez also won the National League Cy Young Award with the Expos in 1997). But Varitek was among the spectators for one of Martinez's greatest performances, when he won the MVP award in the 1999 All-Star game at Fenway. "He pitched with every ounce of his being for the Red Sox," Henry said. "Some of those performances were among the most memorable in Red Sox history. Who will ever forget the 1999 All-Star game?"
Proud, sensitive, and stubborn, Martinez generally demanded respect on his terms from management and the media, and when he felt he had been wronged he either lashed out or entered a prolonged period of silence. But as alternately charming and contentious as he often seemed off the field, Martinez routinely distinguished himself on the mound as one of the fiercest rivals in sports.
But the Sox, who nearly five months ago jettisoned another face of the franchise, Nomar Garciaparra, were prepared to go forward without Martinez as well.
"There's a world of opportunity out there," Epstein said.
Gordon Edes of the Globe Staff contributed to this report.