Red Sox 25-year All-Entertaining Team: Pitchers
This is part two of my All-Entertaining Team, the Red Sox players I've enjoyed watching and covering over my 25 years on the beat. On Friday, we gave you the hitters. Today, it's the pitchers' turn.
There are only a couple of Hall of Famers, as well as one who should get there someday soon. What stands about most of the names on this list is what made them unique. You won't find great pitchers like Josh Beckett or Jon Lester. I'm more interested in the flutter of Tim Wakefield's knuckleball or the heat-seeking properties of Andrew Miller's slider or the simple history of watching a 43-year-old Dennis Eckersley bridge generations during his farewell season.
Oh, and Pedro, of course, for everything from demeanor to artistry to dominance to the sheer spectacle of watching him take the hill every five days.
In fact, that's as good a place as any to start, so let's jump right in . . .
SP — Pedro Martinez
I'm not particularly sentimental, but this is an honest-to-God sentence I wrote in my scorebook on May 6, 2000: "Never forget how lucky you are."
Martinez had just dominated the Devil Rays in a 17-strikeout complete game that somehow ended as a 1-0 loss that's known as the Steve Trachsel game. Tampa's first seven outs came via strikeout, and after No. 7 (Miguel Cairo), I scribbled the above note in the bottom margin. And 20 years later, I haven't forgotten. There was nothing like a Pedro Martinez start, especially in Fenway Park, from 1999-2001 — the electricity, the Dominican flags, the utter domination of baseball's most turbocharged offensive era.
Martinez was in a way the last of his kind, the superstar Boston athlete whose personal achievements rendered irrelevant any team-wide failings. In the days before Boston became Titletown, it was more than enough for Martinez to wake up the damn Bambino, whether or not the Yankees were his daddy.
SP — Curt Schilling
Speaking of throwbacks, they don't make them like the Big Schill anymore, either. The greatest postseason pitcher ever (fight me), Schilling delivered so many times on the big stage, he should be named Hamilton or Rent (he'd hate both of those references, which is why I made them). He lost exactly two playoff starts in his entire career, and one of them came on a mangled ankle. Schilling was brash, confident, and almost cartoonishly alpha.
The day of Schilling's first spring training start in 2004, a reporter made the mistake of asking him a question. "I'M PITCHING TODAY!!!!!!" he screamed. Was the display at least partly performative? Of course. But there was nothing contrived about the way he beat the Yankees in 2004 (and 2001, for that matter), or how he finessed his way past the Rockies in his World Series swan song in 2007. He may be a QAnon crazy person now, but I'd still hand him the ball if my life depended on it.
SP — Derek Lowe
Before a Red Sox-Yankees game one Sunday in maybe 1999, early arrivals caught Lowe and teammate Pete Schourek playing one-on-one outside the old Yankee Stadium. The 6-foot-5 Schourek had talked unending smack about his roundball prowess, but oh my God did the 6-6 Lowe lay a whupping on him from the 3-point line to the rim and everywhere in between. He averaged over 30 a game as a Michigan high schooler, graduating the same year (1991) as the Fab Five. He had a chance to play at Detroit Country Day with Chris Webber, but scoffed when asked why he hadn't taken it. "What, so I could do this all game?" he said while mimicking an overhead entry pass.
Lowe had such a crazy Red Sox career, from All-Star closer in 2000 to All-Star starter two years later, from playoff afterthought to winning every clinching game in 2004. He wore his emotions on his sleeve, threw a no-hitter, called himself a "Mental Gidget," and packed a lifetime of living into eight years here.
SP — Tim Wakefield
Scariest sight I've ever witnessed up close on a baseball field is easy — standing next to Wakefield's throwing partner during warmups. Baseball players may boast the greatest hand-eye coordination in the world, but they'd still scatter like seagulls every time Wakefield fluttered one in their direction. You know that heart-in-throat feeling atop a rollercoaster? Wakefield's knuckleball evoked similar seasickness even from the side.
Add a crusty and curmudgeonly demeanor that somehow made him endearing — he could "get off my lawn" with the best of 'em — as well as an unprecedented ability to throw two-hour complete games on getaway day (thus allowing everyone to make their flights), and I found myself looking forward to his turns. No one produced worse swings, especially when on one of his improbable runs. Wakefield took Boston fans on one hell of an unexpected ride from 1995-2011.
SP — Bronson Arroyo
There's only a handful of trades Theo Epstein would absolutely undo. The one that shipped Arroyo to the Reds at end of spring training in 2006 for the hulking Wily Mo Pena certainly qualifies. Arroyo only spent parts of three seasons here, and oh, what might've been! The free-spirited, easygoing right-hander with the old-timey leg kick ended up spending 16 years in the big leagues, making an All-Star team and winning a Gold Glove.
I remember asking him in late August of 2003 after only his second Red Sox appearance if he had plunked future Hall of Famer Derek Jeter intentionally during a series that had gotten a little chippy. "Never hurts to show these guys you've got some balls," he answered matter-of-factly, political correctness be damned. He ended up making the playoff roster and a year later was on the receiving end of the slap heard round the world, not to mention one of sport's first meme-able moments. Had Arroyo stuck around, he would've been an all-time favorite.
CL — Koji Uehara
The first time Uehara ran the high-five gauntlet in the Red Sox dugout after a save, I remember thinking, "Wait, is this guy for real?" He wasn't slapping five so much as assaulting it. "It actually hurts," teammate Shane Victorino marveled. Talk about catching lightning in a bottle. Uehara only ended up closing because the two guys ahead of him fell apart. What he did thereafter at age 38 provides yet another example of how magically 2013 unfolded.
He posted a 1.09 ERA and struck out over 100 despite barely breaking 90 mph. It looked like sorcery. Uehara introduced us to the concept of spin rate and how it could be weaponized on splitters and changeups, but he also made life loose in the clubhouse despite speaking minimal English. It was only fitting, then, that Uehara's final celebration came when he leaped into the arms of catcher David Ross to clinch the first World Series title at Fenway Park in 95 years.
RP — Rich Garces
It's strange to think that there's a generation of fans unfamiliar with El Guapo, but Garces was one of the most recognizable players on the roster during his late-90s heyday. Fans loved the rotund Venezuelan for his six-foot, 250-pound physique, but also his results. He posted a 1.55 ERA in 1999 and was a workhorse in 2000 and 2001, going 14-2 with a 3.56 ERA. He looked like a softball player — and not a particularly committed one, at that — which stoked his popularity.
He also didn't run from the attention over his physique, instead leaning into it and even going so far as to join a "Bobble Belly" night with the independent Nashua Pride after his big league career ended in 2002. Two decades later, it's impossible to watch a rerun of "Three Amigos" without picturing him.
RP — Burke Badenhop
It's safe to say there haven't been very many big leaguers like Badenhop. The Bowling Green economics major penned the foreword to a book on personal finance for recent college grads, dreamed of writing for Saturday Night Live, and had already started work at pharmaceutical giant GlaxoSmithKline when the Tigers drafted him in the 19th round in 2005.
Badenhop was one of the earliest adopters of advanced stats, talking excitedly about his line drive rate, RE24, and FIP back in 2014. Engaging with those kind of numbers helped him post a 3.74 ERA over eight seasons despite featuring an arsenal low on velocity, but heavy on swerve. He had a great sense of humor and keen pop culture sensibilities, too. "Keep riding the bull, good in, bad out, like Happy Gilmore," he said after a 27-game streak without allowing an earned run in 2014.
RP — Daniel Bard
Bard's career nearly ended before it started in 2007 at Single-A Lancaster, where he allowed 21 hits and 22 walks in just 13.1 innings. That turned out to be foreshadowing for the struggles that would effectively end his career five years later. "Once you know that's in there, it never completely goes away," one rival exec said.
But for those five years in between, Bard was a force who threw one of the easiest 100-mph fastballs in baseball. It's amazing how much the game has changed since Bard debuted in 2009 as the hardest thrower in the Red Sox bullpen. Now, every other reliever throws 95. Back then, he was a unique weapon. It's a shame he lost the plate, because in an alternate reality, he's still closing today.
RP — Andrew Miller
Like Badenhop and fellow UNC grad Bard, Miller brought a keen mind to the game, which made him a great conversationalist. Watching him transform from first-round bust as a starter to overwhelming weapon as a reliever was a sight to behold, particularly because it didn't happen overnight.
Miller completely remade himself between his arrival in 2011 as a starter with a 5.54 ERA to a power reliever who averaged over 14 strikeouts per nine during the 2013 title season. Miller became a household name during the 2016 World Series with the Indians, but Red Sox fans already knew what it was like to watch him bury sliders with his lanky frame and low arm slot. His success was a tribute to perseverance.
RP — Alan Embree
Embree had already experienced a full career by the time he joined the Red Sox at age 32 in 2002, with stops in six different cities beginning in 1992 with the Indians. A high-strikeout setup man in the days before that was a prerequisite for the job, the lefty threw 95 and played a central role in a bullpen that oscillated between effective and frightening.
He admitted hoping to blow up closer-by-committee in 2003 by claiming the job outright, but Terry Shumpert's two-run homer on Opening Day in Tampa ruined that plan (though Shumpert more than compensated by teaching the game to his nephew, Mookie Betts). Embree persevered, however, and when the Red Sox completed their epic comeback against the Yankees in the 2004 ALCS, it was Embree who recorded the final out, his bear hug of catcher Jason Varitek an iconic image of a magical season.
RP — Dennis Eckersley
When Eck returned to the Red Sox in 1998 at age 43 to finish his 24-year Hall of Fame career in the city where he rose to prominence, every one of his 50 appearances felt like a link to the past. This was someone who faced Hank Aaron and Derek Jeter, Brooks Robinson and Jim Thome, Joe Morgan and Barry Larkin. He remained a relentless competitor, even with his career winding inevitably to a close, but he also exhibited the personality traits that would make him a beloved broadcaster.
He talked the game with anyone, even young pony-tailed reporters, and I've never covered anyone with a more skewed talent-to-humility ratio. He's one of the greatest closers ever and you'd never know it in conversation. It still bothers me that Manny Ramirez lined the final pitch of his magnificent career into the netting above the Wall to complete Cleveland's ALDS sweep.