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He's back

Martínez, eyeing Fenway return, has had a striking impact on Mets

NEW YORK -- His words are absent the bitterness he expressed at his parting from the Red Sox 18 months ago. When he returns next week to Fenway Park for the first time since leaving the Sox, he comes as the face of another franchise, the New York Mets, whose fortunes have improved dramatically, on and off the field, since they signed Pedro Martínez as a free agent.

``I don't hold any grudges," Martínez said this week.

While he could easily have restated the case, in the light of their current pitching woes, that the Sox badly miscalculated when they allowed him to walk away, Martínez elected instead to speak of his fondness for his former team, and the town in which he says his best memories in baseball were created.

How does he expect to be received by that town when he steps on the field in another uniform?

``Well," he said after another Mets' win Tuesday night, ``the way they are in my heart, if they feel the same way that I feel, it should be a mutual respect and passion for each other. I had a lot of fun. My best memories in baseball are in Boston, so I hope they receive me the way I have them in my heart.

``Especially those fans in right field, the `K' crew with their cards [for strikeouts]. I can't forget those people, everybody posting the Ks. It was a lot of fun. It was a legacy I built. It's going to take a while until somebody comes and does that again."

Martínez is scheduled to pitch in Fenway Park Wednesday night, in the middle game of a three-game series between the Mets, who have the best record in the National League and a 9 1/2-game lead over the Phillies in the East, and the Red Sox, who have a two-game lead over the Yankees in the American League East.

``I wish I didn't have to pitch," he said. ``I wish I had the opportunity to choose, but a job is a job.

``Why? Because there are too many friends. Too many feelings. It's difficult.

``A loss has to go to one side or the other. I'm a fan of the Red Sox, believe me. You have [Jason] Varitek, you have David [Ortiz], you have all those guys there. Manny [Ramírez], David, Varitek. I get along with a lot of the other guys that were brought to the team. Schill [Curt Schilling], all those guys. Those are my teammates, the ones that got me a championship.

``I have the same feeling for lot of people. I have so many people there I want to see. My godbrother, my godson. I want to see [broadcaster] Joe Castiglione. Pookie [Jackson, the assistant equipment manager], Joe Cochran [the equipment manager]. Kerri [Moore, the media relations manager]. I miss Kerri a lot."

Big toe, big feats
Martínez goes into this afternoon's start against the Cincinnati Reds with a modest 6-3 record, but that is deceptive for a number of reasons, beginning with five no-decisions.

His spring training was curtailed because of an injury to his right big toe, which began bothering him in the summer of 2004, his last season with the Sox. In the course of his motion, Martínez drags his right foot -- his plant foot -- across the dirt, and in so doing developed acute tendinitis around the sesamoid bones, two small bones surrounded by tendons.

A specially molded shoe helped to alleviate that problem, but he subsequently developed inflammation in his right hip that caused him to miss a start against the Yankees. A cortisone shot helped, until a fall in Florida set him back.

``I went in the clubhouse in my cleats and slipped on the floor," he said. ``I was pitching well, but it kept getting worse and worse. I never said anything to the media. I battled through it. That's why I struggled a little bit the last few outings."

His worst start in that stretch came against the Dodgers, where former manager Grady Little was in the opposing dugout, former teammate Derek Lowe was the opposing pitcher, and former teammate Nomar Garciaparra hit a home run off him.

``That was kind of weird," Martínez said.

He's feeling much better now, he said, especially since he only went five innings in his next-to-last start, and should feel even better by the time he gets to Boston, since he'll get an extra day's rest because of an offday Monday.

Even with the assorted aches and pains (``Don't ask me to be a pitcher in my next life," he told Juliet Macur of The New York Times. ``It's too painful."), Martínez's numbers reflect his continued dominance at age 34.

Opposing batters are hitting just .194 against him, second-lowest average in the majors. He is tied for the National League lead in strikeouts with 102, and leads the majors in strikeouts per nine innings (9.91).

``His preparation is second to none," said Mets first baseman Carlos Delgado, one of the big-name players general manager Omar Minaya has surrounded Martínez with, a group that also includes center fielder Carlos Beltran, closer Billy Wagner, catcher Paul Lo Duca, and three rising young stars -- shortstop Jose Reyes, third baseman David Wright, and outfielder Lastings Milledge.

``Not only does he have a game plan," Delgado said, ``but he's a guy who's not afraid to adjust along the way. He pitches to a hitter's last swing, rather than just go by the scouting report.

``I faced him when he threw 96 with a nasty changeup, but he's more of a pitcher now.

``He always had great control, but now he throws six pitches for a strike. He throws a cutter, he throws a fastball up, he's got the changeup, the curveball, the slurve, and he can throw them all for a strike any time."

A real crowd-pleaser
But his impact on the Mets has transcended his performance. It's fashionable again to be a Mets fan, especially when Martínez pitches. The Mets last season averaged just under 40,000 fans in games started by Martínez, almost 4,000 more than their season average (35,374). Even though they only finished third in 2005, they drew a half-million more fans than the season before, and because of their fast start, which has included a good deal of high drama, the Mets figure to be a lock to crack 3 million in attendance this season.

It has worked out the way Minaya envisioned it when he visited Martínez in the Dominican Republic to make his pitch on behalf of the Mets.

``Pedro makes the brand," Minaya memorably put it earlier this year. ``Roger Clemens has brand value in Texas, but not all over, including Latin America, like Pedro."

Martínez has made his presence felt in the Mets' clubhouse as well. ``He talks to everyone," said Wagner, who has become close to Martínez, in part because Martínez has shown an uncanny feel for Wagner's pitching mechanics. ``It isn't, `I'm just going to hang with the superstars or the Dominicans.' He's been an awesome teammate."

Martínez said he plans to stop by his old neighborhood in Chestnut Hill, though he has put that house up for sale. Home is now a six-bedroom Tudor revival estate in Greenwich, Conn., where he lives with his new wife, Carolina Cruz, a former reporter for ESPN Deportes whom he had met when she was a student at Boston College.

How is he finding married life?

``It's an adjustment," he said. ``Like baseball, you have to make adjustments. I'm trying to adjust. I'm starting to feel more comfortable."

He offered a small smile when told Bronson Arroyo, who was in town with the Reds, said the Sox never should have broken up their championship team.

``That's the sad part of it, the business part of it," said Martínez, who has always maintained he wanted to remain in Boston, and criticized Sox management for the way it conducted negotiations -- failing to offer an extension in 2003, when they exercised the option they held for '04 -- then adding a third year to their offer only after the Mets already had a four-year, $53 million offer on the table.

Sox owner John W. Henry would tell him one thing, Martínez charged at the time, and GM Theo Epstein would tell him another. But if hard feelings remain, Martínez was not inclined to show them.

``You have to go your separate ways," he said. ``They thought differently. Maybe they don't need me anymore. I thought in the playoffs last year maybe they could have used me, but so far this year they're doing great. I wish them well."

Yes, he said, if he runs into the Sox owners next week, he'll say hello.

``I know they're planning to do some stuff to recognize me for all the relief efforts that we did at times, the humanitarian stuff," Martínez said. ``That's very nice. That's [showing] a positive attitude. One other thing is, I see they haven't given my number away. I'm very happy for that. It shows respect for what I've done.

``They don't have to do anything. I don't hold any grudges. They did what they had to do, business-wise."

But was it right, baseball-wise? Martínez could have reached for the dagger, but didn't.

``You never know," he said. ``Sometimes you have to take chances, sometimes you don't."

MARTINEZ MEMORIES Check out boston.com/redsox for photos looking back at Pedro Martínez's time with the Red Sox

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