"I live in a box, what can I say?" Lo Duca would say a few hours later.
He had caught the third strike of the 3,000th strikeout of Martinez's career. The catcher was caught unaware. And then he caught a little heat. "How was I supposed to know?" Lo Duca said. "No one told me."
He wasn't alone in his box. Tom Glavine found out just before game time that Martinez needed merely two strikeouts to join a rather select group. Manager Willie Randolph and even pitching coach Rick Peterson knew nothing about it. Martinez's benchmark achievement -- he now is one of 15 pitchers ever to amass 3,000 strikeouts -- was nearly the equivalent of a tree falling in an uninhabited forest.
If Martinez throws a third strike past Harang and no one is counting, does it make history?
With little pregame fanfare and only a modest response from those gathered, Martinez added his name to a list of elite pitchers in baseball history Monday. Now "Pedro" stands with Rocket and Lefty and the Unit, Gibby, Fergy and the Franchise, The Big Train, Ryan Express and Knucksie and the others. The career resume that probably will earn him a place in the Hall of Fame now has a conspicuous round number.
Martinez struck out two batters in the second inning of the Mets' Labor Day game against the Reds at Great American Ballpark, not that anyone was counting.
Significantly more attention had focused on his return to the Mets rotation than on his career strikeout total. And it was more important to him, the Mets and probably, the Phillies and Braves, that he pitched five innings in his first appearance in a game this season, his first since Sept. 27 last season and his first since undergoing shoulder surgery Oct. 5.
His victims were Scott Hatteberg, his former Red Sox teammate and catcher, and Harang, the opposing pitcher. Hatteberg struck out swinging, leading off the second after Martinez had allowed two runs in the first inning. He tipped a changeup, the eighth pitch of his at-bat, into Lo Duca's mitt. Then after retiring Edwin Encarnacion of a fly ball, Martinez struck out Harang on four pitchers, the fourth a swinging strike.
|MARTINEZ's TOP 10 VICTIMS|
-- Courtesy of The Elias Sports Bureau
And Lo Duca treated the ball as if it were diseased. "I'm pretty sure he was focused on getting me through the game and not 3,000 strikeouts," Martinez said.
Martinez had the same focus.
"In today's game, I wasn't thinking about 3,000," he said. I had other things to think about. I feel very good about it. I knew it was out there. But I needed two, so it wasn't big to me. But it's a big thing when you see the names. It feels great. But it doesn't compare with being back with team."
Martinez's velocity, a minor issue during his long rehab, was in the 85-88 mph range until the fifth inning, when he threw one pitch clocked at 90 and another at 89. Martinez appeared to be throwing with more of a sidearm angle than in the past. He threw 76 pitches, most of them offspeed, 47 for strikes. The Reds scored three runs, two of them earned, on five hits and three walks, one intentional. He struck out four to raise his career total to 3,002 and notched his 207th career victory.
The first two strikeouts put Martinez in an even more select group. Of the 15 with 3,000 strikeouts, only he, Nolan Ryan and Randy Johnson have more strikeouts than innings pitched. When Martinez finished his workday, he had thrown 2,650 2/3 innings and struck out 3,002. Ryan, the all-time strikeout leader with 5,714, threw 5,386 innings, and Johnson, third in strikeouts behind Roger Clemens, has 4,616 in 3,855 1/3 innings.
At age 35, Martinez hardly is a challenge to the leaders. He is likely to remain in 15th place this season because the 14th pitcher, Curt Schilling, has 3,101, and his career is on-going. Among the retired pitchers with 3,000 or more, Bob Gibson has the fewest with 3,117. He and perhaps three others are within Martinez's reach.
He doesn't strike 'em out like he used to. He says he's not obsessed with strikeouts, never was. But he wanted the ball.
Marty Noble is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.