From Venezuela’s heartland, and site of a national myth/miracle, comes a promising left-hander.
by Brian Kluepfel
Tonight we once again are focused on a 22-year-old—this time left-handed pitcher Martín Perez, born in the Los Llanos town of Guanare. What’s in Guanare, you might ask? Only a mega-shrine to the Virgin of Coromoto, Venezuela’s patron saint. Thousands of people flock to the giant church each year to pray for miracles, or expunge their sins, or whatever else is on their minds. Also, the best ice cream shop in all of Venezuela is named for Coromoto—that’s how freaking important it is.
Well, perhaps young Martín visited the virgin over last winter and came up with a change-of-speed, or some such. Last season, for the Texas Rangers, he had a rather unimpressive 1-4 record as a starter and reliever. But not everybody comes out the gate like Dwight Gooden or Bob Feller or Roger Clemens. Texas manager Ron Washington, whom the players must love, said, hey, he’s just a kid, let him get his feet wet. (Hey man—he was an All-Star for the Hickory Crawdads of the Southern Atlantic League *and* Pitcher of the Week for the Round Rock Express of the Pacific Coast League—how many pitchers on YOUR team can say that, bubba?)
This spring, Martín got more than his hair wet—he broke his darned arm (did he slip in the shower? I really don’t know. Truth be told, a line drive from Seattle’s Brad Miller fractured his ulna bone in a spring training game). This sidetracked him for a couple of months, but when he came up to the big club from AAA in June he promptly won his first two decisions. July was less promising, but again, Washington said, hey everybody, slow down the posts to Twitter and Facebook saying Perez’s career is over. Let the boy pitch.
And pitch he did. In August, he faced Venezuela’s ace of the moment (actually, the past five seasons), King Felix Hernandez of the Seattle Mariners. He beat him twice, home and away (break my arm, Mariners!). He shut out the Houston Astros for his first complete game. Then, to end the month, he topped the front-running Oakland A’s (coincidentally, the Rangers’ big rival for the coveted first place spot in the Western Division) and their ace, the mighty and massive Bartolo Colon. Colon is nearly twice his age.
So now Senor Perez is on a roll—14 runs surrendered in his last 7 starts. A 9-3 record. He’s in a rotation with Derek Holland, Matt Garza, and Yu Darvish: the spotlight, and the load, are not on him alone.
He said, for the record, “I think this is my time.” He also said, when injured in the spring, “I have to be ready up here,” and pointed to his head. Oh, the wisdom of youth!
Stride boldly forth, young Martín . We need a lefty criollo to replace Johan Santana. Maybe you’ll take on countryman Anibal Sanchez in the playoffs. Maybe you’ll go to the World Series in your first complete season. But enjoy the ride, dude—it’s a long way from the grasslands of Los Llanos to the air-conditioned locker room of Rangers Stadium.