05/27/2002 10:01 pm ET
Martinez hitting his stride
May turnaround has slugger back on track
By Jim Molony / MLB.com
HOUSTON -- April wasn't kind to Tino Martinez and St. Louis but May has been a much different story for the Cardinals' first baseman and his teammates.
Martinez, who hit just .200 with no homers and nine RBIs during the first month of the season, continued his May march with a two-run homer off Houston's Roy Oswalt to lift the Cardinals to a 4-3 victory over Houston Monday afternoon at Astros Field.
The Cardinals have won eight of their last nine games and 15 of their last 18. They moved to within a half-game of first-place Cincinnati in the National League Central Division race.
"We've been playing good, we're getting good starting pitching every night, we're getting timely hitting," Martinez said. "Everything's working right now and we've got to continue to ride it out."
Martinez has hit six homers and driven in 19 runs this month. Since April 30, he is hitting .269 and has raised his average 26 points in the last four weeks.
"His at-bats have been getting better and better as we go on," St. Louis manager Tony La Russa said. "The tougher the at bat the better he is."
Martinez popped out in the second inning, singled in the fourth and flied to deep right field in the sixth. He came to the plate with St. Louis leading 2-1 with one out in the eighth following a sacrifice fly by Jim Edmonds. Martinez worked Astros ace Roy Oswalt to a 3-1 count before lashing his sixth homer of the season into the right field seats. The two-run shot proved to be pivotal when the Astros rallied for two runs against Cardinal right-hander Gene Stechshulte (6-1).
The homer was only the third allowed by Oswalt this season and the first off the right-hander since April 8, a span of 63.1 innings.
"We're up by one at that point, Jimmy had a great at-bat and we needed some insurance runs," Martinez said. "When I got ahead I was looking for my pitch and I got one that I was able to get around on."
In his last eight games Martinez is hitting .370 (10-for-27) with two homers and eight RBIs. His on-base percentage, .235 on April 11, stands at .392, the highest it's been since Opening Day. Martinez, who signed a free agent contract with St. Louis during the winter after spending his entire career in the junior circuit, said getting a second and third look at National League pitchers has helped him get going but the main change in his fortunes is a result of mechanics.
"I'm getting my swing down, mechanics down, my balance is good and I'm seeing the ball well," Martinez said. "(I'm) more relaxed at the plate."
The Cardinals tied a season-high by turning four double plays. They have turned around following a 13-19 start and began the day 28-22, one game behind the team's pace through 50 games a year ago.
La Russa reminded the media that it was still early in the season, and that the goal of getting to double figures above .500 still remains.
La Russa's caution notwithstanding the Cardinals are a team on a roll and playing like the NL Central Division favorites they were expected to be when the season began. St. Louis has beaten Houston eight out of 10 games.
"Nobody's happy what's going on with the offense, but are we out of it? Heck no, we're not even close," Houston catcher Brad Ausmus said of his team's woes.
"It's early, they have a great team and I don't think they've hit their stride yet," Martinez said of the Astros. "So it's good to take a few games from them before they get hot. The games have all been close, not like we've been blowing them out or anything."
Jim Molony is a writer for MLB.com based in Houston and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.