Tim Kurkjian Baseball Fix: 'Well, God gave me that': How Pedro Martinez was so small but threw so hard

You love baseball. Tim Kurkjian loves baseball. So while we await its return, every day we'll provide you with a story or two tied to this date in baseball history.

ON THIS DATE IN 1995, Pedro Martinez pitched nine perfect innings.

Martinez faced 27 Padres, retired them all, then joined Harvey Haddix (1959) as the only pitchers ever to take a perfect game into extra innings. Martinez gave up a hit to Bip Roberts to start the 10th inning, then was taken out. The Expos won 1-0. The next day, Montreal pitching coach Joe Kerrigan put a comforting arm around Martinez. He walked him down the right-field line "just to make sure he understood'' how historic his performance had been the night before, even though he didn't get a perfect game or a no-hitter.

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Martinez would make much more history in his brilliant career, including being the only pitcher to finish with at least 219 victories, a .687 winning percentage and 3,154 strikeouts. The legend of Pedro began in rookie ball, when he weighed 138 pounds and threw 93 mph. I asked how it was possible for anyone so small to throw that hard. He said, "Well, God gave me that.'' The Dodgers traded Martinez to the Expos in 1993; he won the Cy Young in 1997, then was traded to the Red Sox, where in only seven seasons he became, I believe, one of the four best players in the history of the franchise.

Martinez's 1999 and 2000 seasons might be the best back-to-back years in pitching history. In a DH league, in the rugged AL East and in the middle of the steroid era, Martinez posted a combined ERA those two years of 1.90. The league ERA was 4.90. He won the Cy Young both years and made a compelling case to be the AL MVP in 1999, when he finished second to Pudge Rodriguez. During those two years, it's possible that he had the best fastball, curveball and changeup in the game at the same time; we can't ever remember thinking that about any pitcher in baseball history. Maybe Martinez's greatest performance for Boston was the unforgettable one-hit, 17-strikeout gem against the Yankees, the most times the Yankees had struck out in a nine-inning game at Yankee Stadium.

And then, of course, there was the 1999 All-Star Game at Fenway Park. The Red Sox honored Ted Williams in a stirring ceremony on the field before the game, then Pedro dominated the helpless NL hitters, striking out five in two innings. After his two innings, he went into the AL clubhouse. Williams, one of the two greatest hitters ever and a man who hated pitchers, was there. He told Martinez that he had some of the best stuff he had ever seen. Pedro called that interaction with Ted Williams "probably the highlight of my career.''

Other baseball notes for June 3

  • In 2004, Julio Franco became the oldest player (45) to hit a grand slam.

  • In 1939, Steve Dalkowski was born. He was a 5-foot-9 left-hander. He was, to some, the hardest-throwing pitcher of all time, with an estimated velocity approaching 110 mph. "He's the hardest thrower I've ever seen,'' said Cal Ripken Sr., who caught him. "I had to really concentrate on every pitch just to catch it.'' Dalkowski had no command or control, and he never pitched in the major leagues.

  • In 1960, catcher Barry Lyons and infielder Steve Lyons were born.

  • In 1977, first baseman Travis Hafner was born. His nickname was "Pronk'' because, he said, "I was a project, and you can call all big, clumsy guys like me 'Donkey,''' he said. He is very smart. He was the valedictorian of his high school in Jamestown, North Dakota. He told me there were only eight kids in his graduating class, four boys and four girls. "The only thing easier than finishing in the top 10 in the class,'' he said, "was getting a date for the senior prom.''