Pedro Martinez had the rare privilege of seeing New York from two very different perspectives on his way to Cooperstown.
He was Public Enemy No. 1 on his visits to the Bronx with the Red Sox. The perfect villain, Martinez once sent both Derek Jeter and Alfonso Soriano to the hospital on the same night in 2003.
Yankee Stadium felt like a modern-day Roman Colosseum when Martinez took the mound. Love him or hate him, you always were entertained.
Across the RFK Bridge, wearing a Mets uniform, Martinez acknowledged that life was different. He spent four years in Flushing, a tenure that began with great promise and ended in ashes -- both for the crumbling Mets and the fading embers of his Hall of Fame career.
Asked Wednesday about those two sides of New York, during a news conference at the Waldorf-Astoria, Martinez described the contrast as only he could, with a response that triggered loud laughter.
"I would say Queens is a little bit different than the Yankees fans," Martinez said. "In Queens, they're wild. They're happy. They settle for what they have. Yankees fans cannot. It's win or nothing."
The initial reaction from the crowd was a collective groan, the statement ripping into the Mets like a 97-mph fastball to the rib cage. Settling is never a good thing, especially in the ultracompetitive environment of New York. And the Mets still are in a vulnerable state after six straight losing seasons, a streak that began after Martinez's four-year, $53-million deal expired in 2008.
It was an interesting choice of words for Martinez, who was a pillar of Omar Minaya's planned Renaissance in Flushing. Paired with imports Carlos Beltran and Carlos Delgado, alongside youthful stars such as David Wright and Jose Reyes, the Mets had the makings of a championship infrastructure.
But it took less time to collapse than it did to put it all together, and Martinez -- himself disintegrating from injuries -- couldn't do much to slow that dismal tide. After a good season in 2005, when he went 15-8 in 31 starts with a 2.82 ERA and 208 strikeouts in 217 innings, Martinez was never the same again.
During the next three seasons, Martinez made a total of 48 starts, with a combined total of 17 wins and a 4.74 ERA -- well above the 2.93 ERA he posted at the end of his 18-year career. The last time most of us saw Martinez was in 2009 at Yankee Stadium, when he started Game 6 of the World Series for the Phillies and Hideki Matsui ripped him for three RBIs in a 7-3 loss.
It wasn't the same, seeing him then. Probably not for Martinez, either. New uniform, new Yankee Stadium. Martinez grinned Wednesday as he listened to Randy Johnson, sitting a few seats over on the Hall of Fame dais, talk about how much fun he had pitching for the Yankees in the Bronx. Trading autographs with Whitey Ford. Sitting with Yogi Berra in the home clubhouse.
"To come over with Boston, it's totally different," Martinez said. "The Yankee fans were really good at trying to intimidate you. But deep in their heart, they appreciate baseball. They recognize greatness."
Martinez often treated New York to his brilliance. Too often for the Yankees. And not frequently enough for the Mets, who now are finally digging out from the rubble left from those difficult years. They appear to have a Pedro for the next generation in Matt Harvey, an immense talent who also loves the big stage, and a young rotation that ultimately may get to places Martinez could not with the Mets.
"It's lovely," Martinez said of that staff. "Those guys are on the verge of getting a really special group of kids coming up. The Mets have a bright future. Harvey, being the ace of the team, I think he's going to have to stay healthy. They need to take advantage of his knowledge and his maturity, his poise on the mound, to guide [Jacob] deGrom and the rest of the guys."
Martinez was brought to Queens a decade ago to be that same kind of ace for the Mets. For all his Cooperstown-worthy feats, it's the only stop that left us wondering what might have been.