Today was the turning point of a great pitching career, and one of the great stories in Major League Baseball history.
On this day in 1987, Dennis Martinez became a free agent. Martinez spent the 1986 season between the Baltimore Orioles and Montreal Expos after a trade in June. Martinez who had personal demons in Baltimore went 3-6 with a 4.59 ERA in Montreal and the Expos decided to re-sign him for another one year deal. In 1987, Martinez’s comeback was on. He was 11-4 and a 3.30 ERA. It was the best full season in his career up to that point by ERA+ and in December of 1987, he re-signed with Montreal where he stayed until 1993 when he signed with Cleveland.
Martinez was the best pitcher the Expos had in the time he was with the team and was part of a trio of reclamation projects with Pascual Perez and Oil Can Boyd in that time period. In 11 years with Baltimore, he went 108-93 with a 4.16 ERA but with Montreal he was 100-72 with a 3.30 ERA and had a second wind career at age 31.
Of course, the highlight for Martinez was in June 1991 when he pitched the only perfect game in franchise history. He shut down the Dodgers for nine innings ending the game with a pop out to center fielder Marquis Grissom and allowed Dave Van Horne to exclaim “El Presidente, El Perfecto!” at Dodgers Stadium, a sound clip as memorable as any other in the team’s history.
After leaving in 1993, the Expos traded Delino DeShields for Pedro Martinez. At the time, the media was so fed up with fire sales and against the trade that the only good thing they saw in Pedro was that he could save the Expos money by wearing Dennis’s jersey. That never happened and in the end, the Expos were proven right by the move.
Dennis signed in Cleveland and returned to the playoffs in 1995 for the first time since 1979 with Baltimore. He was 1-2 in five starts as the Indians lost to the Atlanta Braves in the World Series. He played a year in Seattle and a year in Atlanta before retiring after the 1998 season at age 43. He was just added to Bo Porter‘s coaching staff with the Houston Astros. It is hard to imagine what his career would look like if he had not come to Montreal in 1986.