Ranking the Top 5 right-handed starting pitchers in Red Sox history
The Red Sox once featured a right-hander so good, they named an award after him. Then came the turn of the most recent century, and a pair of righties finally surpassed him. It's crazy to think, but for nearly 100 years, the greatest right-hander to pull on a Red Sox uniform was Denton True Young, better known as Cy. He stayed atop the list until the 1980s, when Roger Clemens burst onto the scene. As the century drew to a close, Pedro Martinez took center stage.
And so as we make the case for the best right-hander in Red Sox history, it really comes down to Roger vs. Pedro, just as it did a handful of memorable times in the late-1990s when the Rocket joined the Yankees. A strong case can be made for either man — Pedro for pure dominance that burned quickly, or Clemens for longevity.
It's an incredibly close call, but you'll have to read on to find out which way we go.
5. Luis Tiant
El Tiante was Pedro before Pedro, a lively, unpredictable, fun-loving iconoclast who might be the best pitcher not enshrined in Cooperstown. A native of Cuba, Tiant had already won 20 games, led the AL in ERA (his 1.60 in 1968 is the fourth-lowest since World War II), and made an All-Star team when he joined the Red Sox at age 30 in 1971.
All he did over the next eight years was captivate New England with his flamingo delivery that left batters wondering just how long it would take him to actually look at home plate before releasing the ball. He won 20 games and earned Cy Young votes three times in Boston, and in 1972 led the AL in ERA at 1.91. He's also the last Red Sox pitcher to throw over 300 innings, which he accomplished in 1974.
He won 122 games here and even at age 79, remains a fixture during spring training and at Fenway Park.
4. Smoky Joe Wood
In the time before the Red Sox finally started winning World Series — 86 years to be exact — fans were more familiar with some of the franchise's individual accomplishments, because they were about all we had. And if there's a number that stood out on the pitching side, it's 34. That's how many games Wood won in 1912 at age 22 while leading the Red Sox to a World Series title.
His 34-5, 1.91 season remains almost inconceivable, featuring 35 complete games, 10 shutouts, and three more wins in the World Series triumph over the Giants. None other than Hall of Famer Walter Johnson once noted that, "no man alive can throw harder than Smoky Joe Wood," but alas, his dominance did not last. A broken thumb, appendicitis, and sore shoulder robbed him of his stamina and heat, and he was sold to the Indians in 1917.
He finished his career as an outfielder, hitting .366 in 1921, before hanging them up a year later.
3. Cy Young
There's little point in comparing today's numbers to those of last century, but even accepting that the game was very different 120 years ago, Young's output remains jaw-dropping. Despite spending only eight seasons in Boston at the tail end of his career, he still won a franchise-record 192 games, including 33, 32, and 28 in his first three seasons. Whereas today's pitchers are considered durable if they can make 30 starts a year, Young wasn't happy without at least 30 complete games, a total he reached in all but one of season in Boston.
Young owns some of baseball's most unbreakable records, such as wins (511), losses (315), starts (815), complete games (749), innings (7,356), and my personal favorite, batters faced (29,565). He helped lead the Red Sox to baseball's inaugural World Series in 1903, beating the Pirates twice in three starts, and in his final season here in 1908 at age 41, he went 21-11 with a career-best 1.26 ERA.
2. Roger Clemens
And so it comes down to this. The margin between Clemens and Martinez is razor thin, and Clemens' case is compelling. Over 13 seasons in Boston, he won 192 games — tying Young for first on the franchise list — as well as three Cy Young Awards and an MVP. The Rocket was the team's primary attraction every five days for the better part of a decade, and he brought a Texas nastiness to the mound that would've felt right at home in another era, which is perhaps why he was cast to knock down Tommy Lee Jones in the movie, "Cobb."
Clemens owned a combustible relationship with the media — the Herald gleefully quoted him verbatim in a nasty little feature called "The World According to Roger" — but fans loved him and assailed GM Dan Duquette for allowing him to leave for Toronto in free agency in 1997. Duquette would more than make up for that misfire just a year later, however.
1. Pedro Martinez
Martinez arrived in 1998 after winning a Cy Young with the Expos, and he simply remade the Boston baseball-going experience.
Small of stature but huge on heart, Martinez was equal parts virtuoso and hit man. He could dazzle with the game's most diverse arsenal, or simply rear back and blow you away. Few pitchers have combined his raw power and sheer artistry. In 2000 I asked Greg Maddux if he believed Martinez could make the transition from power pitcher to finesse pitcher. "He's already the best finesse pitcher in baseball," Maddux said. "He just throws harder than the rest of us."
Martinez spent seven seasons in Boston, and he made them count, winning 117 games, leading the AL in ERA four times, and winning a pair of Cy Young Awards. If you polled fans today, he'd probably rank as the most popular player of the last 50 years, an impish magician who gave us new ways to love the game.