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BOB RYAN

Cheers would raise bar

A boo? Someone would be obtuse enough to boo Pedro Martínez when he returns to Fenway Park as a Mets starter tonight? Say it isn't so.

``You can't possibly want to boo this guy," proclaims Gehrig38, a regular contributor to the Sons of Sam Horn website. ``What you got a chance to see included three of the most dominating seasons in baseball history."

``Gehrig38," as many of you know, answers to the real-life name of Curt Schilling.

Boo Pedro Martínez? Why? Because he left town? Because he may have sworn allegiance to the Red Sox and the city of Boston before he discovered that, when push came to shove, the Mets offered him a much better contract? Anyone who is bothered by that needs to get over it. It's the 21st century. Business happens.

After what we saw last night, it's kind of a moot point. The Red Sox themselves seized the initiative by throwing up two separate ``Welcome Back, Pedro" greetings on the message board at the end of the first inning, which had the crowd chanting for him and Pedro emerged from the dugout with a doff of the cap. That's the proper spirit.

Pedro Martínez needs to be thanked. He needs to be thanked for giving the Red Sox and their fans seven of the greatest seasons of major league pitching they'll ever see. He needs to be thanked for the two Cy Youngs and the four earned run titles. He needs to be thanked for 1999 alone, when his 23-4, 2.07 ERA, 13.20-strikeouts-per-nine-innings season was the best submitted by any Red Sox pitcher since Smoky Joe Wood's legendary 34-5 campaign in 1912. And then he needs to be thanked for a fairly dazzling encore season in 2000 (18-6, 1.74). And he needs to be thanked for 2004 when, as Gehrig38 puts it, ``he was a major part of bringing a World Series to Boston and was one of the 25."

``It's great to be back in very, very familiar territory," Martínez said yesterday. ``There are a few changes around here, but I have great memories. It's just great overall. A refreshing feeling."

The Red Sox? His second-favorite team. He says that will never change. ``Unless I'm competing against them," he said, ``I want to see them do well and become champions if I'm not going to be one."

So, um, what happened? Why is this a homecoming, rather than just another night at his old Fenway office? How did that World Series start against the Cardinals become his Red Sox farewell?

``I kept saying I did not want to leave Boston," he insisted. ``For business purposes, that was a bad move. I guess they thought when I said I didn't want to leave Boston that I would take whatever they would offer. I was speaking from the heart: `I don't want to leave Boston.' That didn't work."

There was the matter of contract length. The Red Sox respected his pitching ability to the utmost, but they regarded him as a fragile vase, unworthy of a long-term commitment. The Mets, with different priorities and needs, had a different view.

``I wish John Henry were here right now, so I could say, `I got the four years!' " Martinez joked.

Do the reasons really matter now? It's a done deal. Pedro is a Met and he comes here as a member of what clearly appears to be the National League's best team.

The Red Sox are in first place with a new young star named Josh Beckett having taken Pedro's 1/1A place in the rotation alongside Schilling. Red Sox fans had seven years to enjoy his mound artistry. Maybe it's best to spread that kind of enjoyment around.

But weren't they glorious years? The Pedro of the late '90s and early 21st century was as good as baseball has seen in the last 60 years. He threw in the high 90s, had an assortment of breaking balls, and was in possession of the game's most envied changeup. Combine that almost unfair amount of physical equipment with a Mensa-like baseball IQ and a heart of 50 lions, and it represented the greatest pitching show we ever will be privileged to see.

Every night at Fenway was a fiesta.

``I'll say the atmosphere on the field will be my biggest legacy," Martínez said. ``It was not just the mix of the players, but of the fans. It's like a good bar. When it opens, it's more fun than any other place. That was the atmosphere in Boston.

``In the seven years I was here the ballpark took on a different spin. The Dominican flags. The K crews. It was so much fun. The music. The people. The hype. The interest. I feel the atmosphere changed a lot. Numbers-wise, I don't have to talk about that. I didn't have to do anything extra."

There was always some sort of theater with Pedro. He came here with a reputation as something of a headhunter, and that aura didn't exactly diminish, especially when he was pitching against the Yankees. Suffice it to say he and Don Zimmer, among many others who have received their mail in New York, never will be the best of friends. It was all part of the package.

Watching him pitch to the Red Sox tonight will be very interesting, especially after watching the goings-on inside the Sox clubhouse shortly before 4 p.m. yesterday. That's when Pedro poked his head inside the door, looking for a few of his old amigos.

He was first greeted by Tim Wakefield. Then David Ortiz came over, and the two embraced before starting an animated exchange in Spanish. Manny Ramírez took note, yelling, ``Pedro, get out of here; you're the enemy now!" before laying his own hug on the pitcher.

``I have so many close friends over there," Martínez said. ``Manny. Papi. [Jason] Varitek. The other day I had to throw against [Kevin] Millar in Baltimore and he made me laugh every at-bat."

Laughter always has been part of the Pedro deal. Deadly serious the day he pitches, he is the resident class clown the other four days, a guy who helps reduce the clubhouse tension during the long, long season.

The Red Sox miss that, just like he misses that once-in-a-lifetime bunch that ended the historic drought. ``Who could be like Manny?" Pedro inquired. ``Nobody. Then you had Millar, [Johnny] Damon, a cuckoo bird like Derek Lowe and a cuckoo bird like Bronson Arroyo. Nobody will put a team like that together, ever again. Our team [the Mets] is loose, but in a different way. It's nothing like in Boston. I'm the loosest one here."

We'll have to take his word for that. But there's no confusion about what he did while he was here. We never had it any better.

Bob Ryan is a Globe columnist. His e-mail address is ryan@globe.com. MARTINEZ MEMORIES Check out boston.com/redsox for a gallery of photos looking back at Pedro Martínez's time with the Red Sox.

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