Dennis Martinez expects something special every July 28. Nothing like July 28, 1991, when he decided to skip the Montreal Expos team bus to Dodger Stadium and instead go to Mass on his own and take his chances on catching a cab.
That day ended with Martinez pitching a perfect game for the Montreal Expos; it ended with Dave Van Horne’s signature “El Presidente, El Perfecto!” call that resonated across the baseball world and Martinez had an inkling it was going to be a good day when he exited the church and found a cab waiting for him.
This Sunday, the 22nd anniversary of Martinez’s perfect game, will find Martinez behind the outfield wall in right field at the Rogers Centre, fulfilling his responsibilities as the Houston Astros bullpen coach and remembering his perfect game as if it were yesterday.
“No, not like yesterday,” Martinez said with a chuckle on Friday. “I’ll remember it like it was today. It’s going to be pretty much the same time as that Sunday afternoon at Dodger Stadium, and it’s going to be special because this time it’s going to be in Canada. I pitched for Canada. I pitched for a Canadian team … so, who knows? Maybe something special will happen again.”
Consider Sunday’s starter Todd Redmond and Jarred Cosart to be put on notice, then. Martinez will of course be just one of two members of the 23-person strong Perfect Game Club in attendance – the Blue Jays’ Mark Buehrle tossed his own while with the Chicago White Sox on July 23, 2009 – and it’s as disparate a group as you’ll find.
“We had a signing at one time, when they brought all the perfect-game guys together: Randy Johnson, David Wells, David Cone, guys like that,” Martinez said. “Somebody asked: ‘Hey man, did we ever imagine we’d throw a game like that?’ We all kind of looked at each other, and by the end we realized the same thing: Nobody thought they were going to throw a perfect game on the day they did it, but we all knew we felt really great that day. I mean, I knew I was going to win. I just knew it. I knew it was going to be a helluva game and that I’d win it.”
The Astros are the youngest team in the majors (averaging 26.5 years) and also its worst, with a 5.06 bullpen earned-run average going into Friday’s game that is the worst in the game by almost half a run.
Martinez joined the Astros before the start of the season after serving six seasons in the St. Louis Cardinals system, most recently as the pitching coach at Single-A Springfield.
Martinez, whose bilingualism is highly prized by the Astros as part of their commitment to young, Latino players, has visions of becoming a pitching coach. He acknowledged that relievers are a different breed than starters and that his transition into a more specialized role has not been without issues.
“As a bullpen coach, you have no time to correct things with the guys, because they’re getting ready for the game,” Martinez said. “It’s hard to talk to them while they’re getting ready. Starting pitchers throw sides, so you have more of a chance to talk about pitches, then. But I try to do what I can.”
He is a treasure trove of advice and stories, our Dennis. Sunday, he can tell everybody about the time he was perfect.