Martinez built -- and built for -- Boston run
Trade Deadline acquisition put Red Sox on his shoulders
BOSTON -- Think of the Red Sox of recent Octobers, and a slew of faces and images come to mind. It could be David Ortiz's walk-off swing or Jonathan Papelbon's clenched fist, or Dustin Pedroia's fire or Josh Beckett's sneer.
But there is a new face of October for these Red Sox, one who has spearheaded Boston to its sixth postseason appearance in the last seven years. The spotlight will be on Victor Martinez when the American League Division Series against the Angels commences later this week.
And that is only fitting, considering that Martinez has delivered in a multitude of ways since first walking into the Red Sox's clubhouse on Aug. 1. Who knows? Perhaps the pressure of the postseason could bring his game to even new heights.
Martinez tasted October before, playing for the 2007 Indians, who wound up losing to his current team in a seven-game AL Championship Series. But there is something that feels bigger about a postseason environment with Boston, where Red Sox Nation seems to have no limit of rabid followers, not to mention a ravenous media that scrutinizes every pitch.
"I always say, this game is tough enough without putting any kind of pressure on yourself," said Martinez. "I'm here, and we'll see what happens. I'm not really thinking, 'I'm going to be playing in the playoffs for Boston' or stuff like that. I don't really think that way. We're going to the playoffs and I'll do nothing but play the same way I've always played -- play my game hard and let things happen."
Things have been happening for the Red Sox since Martinez climbed on board in a Trade Deadline deal with the Indians. All he has done is be nearly slump-proof for two months, providing thump from both sides of the plate and finding a way to be a leader for a pitching staff with which he just started working. Oh, and he is a sparkplug in the dugout.
"You give up a couple of runs and the dugout gets kind of stagnant sometimes -- it gets quiet," said Red Sox left fielder Jason Bay. "[Martinez is] always there just yelling, screaming positive things. Telling guys, 'Hey, let's go, let's go.' Those guys are important, whether you're playing or not. It's good for morale.
"He's also the catcher. He's intense. I've had numerous pitchers tell me they like him just because he's like, 'You're going to do this, and you're going to do it well.' He gets guys pumped whether it's pitching or not. He's catching, so he's kind of quarterbacking that defense. I don't think he's doing anything he doesn't want to. He's just catching and being a leader."
|"We're going to the playoffs and I'll do nothing but play the same way I've always played -- play my game hard and let things happen."|
|-- Victor Martinez|
"Well, I'll say it again -- thanks to my teammates," Martinez said. "They've been awesome. They've been awesome to me. I feel like I've been playing with them for a couple of years, even though I've just got two months here."
In truth, when Red Sox general manager Theo Epstein went out and got Martinez, the biggest motivation was for the added production. At the time, Boston was struggling as an offense. But the impact Martinez has made makes him one of the most important in-season additions in recent memory.
"I mean obviously, he is an off-the-charts human being," said Epstein. "And he's accomplished something which is hard to accomplish. He came in seamlessly to a pennant race and provided legitimate leadership at the same time."
Red Sox right-hander Paul Byrd has enjoyed the perspective of watching Martinez play in the modest market of Cleveland and the pressure-cooker of Boston.
"He's great," said Byrd. "He knows when to get excited and when to cheer the guys on and he knows when he knows when to stay reserved. You look at him at his locker right now, and he looks a little quiet. But when the game starts, he's got a lot of energy and keeps guys going."
The combination of Martinez's big bat and infectious attitude is something they've relished in Boston, and what the Indians were the beneficiaries of for many years.
"That's something about Victor that made him really special," said Kelly Shoppach, Martinez's backup in Cleveland. "I've never seen anyone as ready to go and as excited to play as he was. I always thought I liked to play the game, but watching him go about his business every day takes it to a whole new level.
"He was one of those guys, if I scored from first and he wasn't playing, he'd bring me water. He'd get me a towel. Those things are never going to show up. Those are things only his teammates know about. The biggest thing you learned is just how much he loved to play and how much he loved his teammates."
And whether it was in the days with the Indians or now in Boston, the feeling is quite mutual.
"Awesome teammate," said Red Sox right-hander Clay Buchholz. "He's just a great guy. He's always upbeat about everything. He's a fun guy to be around whenever the team is going through some struggles. He's the guy who says, 'Hey, let's do this.' He's just a good teammate, and probably an even better player than he is a teammate, and that's hard to say. It's been fun working with him."
Epstein knew back in July -- even when his team led the AL East by three games at the All-Star break -- that his team was probably a big bat short of being championship-caliber. Those suspicions were confirmed when Boston stumbled at the start of the second half, losing five straight in Toronto and Texas at a time the bats basically went silent.
|"[Victor Martinez] came in seamlessly to a pennant race and provided legitimate leadership at the same time."|
|-- Red Sox general manager Theo Epstein|
"At the time, the offense needed a bit of help and the ability to bring in someone who I consider to be an elite hitter, a guy who could fit right in the three-hole, a switch-hitter who hits good pitching," said Epstein. "And it was a unique opportunity and the fact that he could catch and play first base and fit into our roster construction really well and provided contingencies for a couple of different scenarios that could have evolved -- he was the right fit at the right time for this club in that respect."
To get Martinez, the Red Sox came up with a package led by invaluable swingman Justin Masterson and highly touted lefty pitching prospect Nick Hagadone.
The trade became worth it from the outset. In Martinez's second day with the Red Sox, he belted four hits. On Aug. 14, in what was then a key AL Wild Card showdown with the Rangers, he came up with a game-winning hit with two outs in the ninth. Even when he wasn't supposed to play, he got big pinch-hits, as was the case on Aug. 26 against the White Sox, and, more dramatically, against the Orioles on Sept. 8, when he cleared the bases with a go-ahead double.
In 56 games for the Red Sox, Martinez hit .336 with eight homers, 41 RBIs and a .912 OPS.
"The incredible thing is he seems to square everything up," said Red Sox right fielder J.D. Drew. "He never seems to get fooled or jammed or anything like that. He's always inside the ball and always driving the ball, so it's been fun to watch."
"Another thing I really like about him is he can hit anybody," Byrd said. "He's a great fastball hitter. When you get in the playoffs, we need people that don't just feast off mediocre pitching. We need people who can step up to the plate and hit good pitching and he can do that. He's all the way through a great addition to this team."
If anyone can relate to the small market-big market adjustment Martinez has made, it is Bay, who did the same thing a year ago.
"I have a ton of respect for the way he's handled it," said Bay. "My wife asked me, 'Wasn't Victor good before he got here?' I said, 'Yeah, he was a great player.' But in places like Pittsburgh and Cleveland, sometimes people just don't see it. He's done the same things here as he has before, but people are taking notice now."
Martinez cried after being traded by the Indians. That was his family -- the place he grew up, the team for which he built his reputation. However, the deal also gave him a new lease on life. The Indians were out of the race from the start, and the ultra-competitive Martinez went from last place to playoff-bound.
If the Red Sox can extend their season long enough, Martinez might cry again -- only this time because of happiness. He wants to see what it feels like to win a World Series. As good as his stats look, winning is what Martinez wants to define him. And that's why he perked up just a day or so after the trade.
|"I have a ton of respect for the way he's handled [the adjustment to Boston's spotlight]. ... He's done the same things here as he has before, but people are taking notice now."|
|-- Jason Bay, on Victor Martinez|
It is the time of year where the pressure is ratcheted up a notch, and there seems to be little doubt that Martinez will be unfazed by it.
"Victor is going to be fine," said Red Sox slugger David Ortiz. "Victor has put himself together so good to help us out so much. Hopefully things continue like that."
A wry smile came across Martinez's face when a reporter asked him if he was "fresh" heading into the postseason.
"The playoffs is like starting over again," Martinez said. "My body is feeling pretty good right now, and that's what is more important to me. I feel pretty good and we'll see what happens."
In a way, Martinez is a perfect fit for Boston. He cares so much, and so do the fans that pack Fenway Park every game.
"Obviously here, there is a full house every game," Martinez said. "This is a team that makes you go out there and play your best game. You never take anything for granted, you never take any at-bat for granted, any pitch."
Ian Browne is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.