Mets steam past Reds, ‘Pedro’ hurls into record books with his 3,000 K’s

Working with a fastball that was past its prime, Pedro Martinez made a vintage comeback.

Back on the mound for the first time in almost a year, the right-hander got his 3,000th career strikeout Monday and led the resurgent New York Mets to a 10-4 win over the Cincinnati Reds.

A victory and a little bit of history, too.

“Can’t ask for anything better than that,” manager Willie Randolph said. “He’s amazing. I shouldn’t even be surprised, really. Pedro was superb.”

Martinez (1-0) had major shoulder surgery last Oct. 5. He returned after just four rehabilitation appearances in the minors, leaving some questions about his readiness. The Mets decided to put him on a 75-pitch limit that left him no margin for error to get through five innings and get a win.

Somehow, he managed.

Martinez threw 76 pitches while limiting the Reds to three runs and five hits in five innings. Four of his pitches came on an intentional walk. With two runners aboard in the fifth, Martinez got Adam Dunn – the last batter he’d get to face – to hit into a rally-killing groundout.

Then, he pumped his fist.

“Indescribable,” the three-time Cy Young winner said. “So far, so good. It was good enough. I did what I was supposed to do. I got 75 pitches in. I gave my team an opportunity. I felt I settled down after the first inning and got everything in control again.”

His performance helped the NL East leaders get control of their division again, increasing their lead to five games over Philadelphia. The lead was down to only two games last week, when the allure of adding a pitcher with playoff experience became too much to resist.

Martinez didn’t disappoint.

“That’s Pedro, and he’s going to get better,” catcher Paul Lo Duca said.

Even though the Reds didn’t do much against Martinez, they could see he had a long way to go.

“He didn’t look like he had his old stuff, and I wouldn’t expect him to,” said first baseman Scott Hatteberg, who was his 2,999th strikeout victim. “He has a long way to go to get back to his old stuff.

“He had just electric stuff, with a 94 mph fastball and sharp, breaking curve. He may get there, but he isn’t close now. It’s obvious he knows how to pitch.”

Martinez fanned Aaron Harang in the second inning to become the 15th pitcher with 3,000 career strikeouts. Boston’s Curt Schilling was the most recent to join the group, getting his 3,000th in August last year.

Moises Alou had three hits, including a solo homer, and scored three times. David Wright also had three hits, including a two-run homer that put the Mets in position for their fourth straight victory, matching their season high. Carlos Delgado hit a solo home run in the ninth, his 22nd.

Harang (14-4) had been 4-0 in his last five starts, but matched his season high by giving up 10 hits and six runs in 5 2-3 innings.

“I can’t be perfect all the time,” Harang said. “The ball just carried today.”

With his swinging strikeout in the second inning, Harang also became a footnote _ No. 3,000 for a 35-year-old pitcher who enjoyed every minute.

Martinez was smiling broadly when he walked into the clubhouse exactly two hours before the scheduled first pitch. He joked with teammates, then headed for his locker to trade his magenta shirt, white slacks and white loafers for a black-and-gray Mets uniform.

“Mornin’ guys,” he said, walking past a throng of reporters. “Good morning!”

A baseball sat on the ledge of his locker, propped next to his glove. It’s a baseball tradition that the next day’s starter gets a ball in his locker.

He had a ball — and a blast.

“Having him in the clubhouse is a shot of life,” Wright said. “He’ll fit right into the rotation.”

Hundreds of Mets fans cheered when Martinez walked onto the field to pitch the bottom of the first, making his usual hop over the foul line for good luck. One fan in a white Mets jersey held up a sign saying: “He’s back.”

His fastball wasn’t. His best pitch still had some catching up to do.

The first three pitches registered only 82, 82 and 83 mph. He gave up a pair of runs, then seemed to get over his cautiousness. He threw back-to-back fastballs to Javier Valentin that registered 88 mph, then another that hit 89.

“When he started hitting 88, 89, it was like, ‘Here we go again,'” Lo Duca said. “He was good. It’s amazing.”

It wasn’t the old Martinez, but it was close enough.

“I’m not as consistent as I used to be with my mechanics and the strike zone,” Martinez said. “I’m the first to tell you I’m not there yet.”