No, J.D. Martinez hasn’t hit 1.6 billion home runs in the postseason. Just two, in fact, but the Red Sox’ slugging designated hitter has been the big lottery winner in the other phase of his game — pure hitting.
Martinez has knocked in 13 runs in 11 postseason games, more than any other player in MLB, and his two-run single to right Wednesday night in a three-run fifth inning provided all Boston needed to grab a 4-2 victory in Game 2 and take a 2-0 lead over the Dodgers with the World Series heading to Los Angeles.
Martinez has been playing with a sore ankle after twisting it rounding a base in Game 1, but he says he will be able to play the field when the Series shifts to non-DH Dodger Stadium on Friday. Meanwhile, he just keeps on hitting, maybe not getting the attention that some teammates have received because everyone just expects Martinez to be great.
He has been a factor in all three playoff series this October. He hit .357 against the Yankees with a homer and six RBIs, .278 against the Astros with a homer and three RBIs, and .429 with four RBIs in his first two World Series games.
I’ll never forget the day I asked Pedro Martinez how he would pitch J.D. Martinez if he had the chance, and he said, “Low and away. Low and away.” The hitter overheard the three-time Cy Young Award winner and added, “How about over the plate. I never see that.”
Being the best hitter in baseball has its problems. Nobody is willing to give you much to hit. But Martinez has made the most of it. Dodgers reliever Ryan Madson struck him out with the bases loaded in Game 1, but didn’t have the same luck in Game 2. In a 2-2 game, Martinez took the outside pitch and dropped a flare into right. It scored two runs and gave the Red Sox the lead for good.
It was one of those nights that left you wondering why Dodgers manager Dave Roberts would remove starting pitcher Hyun-Jin Ryu when the lefthander was pitching well, bedazzling the Red Sox with an assortment of curveballs and changeups. The Red Sox were in Off-Balance City.
We like Madson, an upfront guy who has pitched in 55 postseason games. His uncle is Steve Barr, who pitched for the Red Sox from 1974-75. He was appreciative of having struck out Martinez in a bases-loaded situation and even discussed the at-bat before event to Game 2 at Fenway Park.
“Yeah, I faced him a couple of times before,” Madson said. “Never a comfortable at-bat for sure. You know you’re in a pit with a rattlesnake, and one bad move, and you’ll get bit if you’re not paying attention. So I think I made good enough pitches to him. I can make better pitches to him, for sure. He might have just missed those, I don’t know. Looked like he was a little late.”
And maybe he was a little late on Wednesday night as well, but the “little late” meant he was striking a hit to the opposite field. Martinez will be late all day, all night, and until next Tuesday if that’s what being late is. Martinez was certainly animated at first base as he stood on the bag after the hit, signaling to his bench after his key two-run hit. The bench was fired up.
“I faced him yesterday and it was a very similar situation,” Martinez said. “He was a little wild, and I went up there kind of passive. I said, ‘This is the time, trust your eyes. Go up there and trust your eyes and if it’s a ball, it’s a ball. Don’t go up there being passive.’ It wasn’t a bad pitch, It was a good pitch and [I was] fortunate enough to stay inside of it and dump it in.”
These are the situations that Martinez gets paid enormously for. Striking out with the bases full requires a refund. But Martinez came to the Red Sox with the reputation that he is a slugger and a pure hitter. Red Sox manager Alex Cora always said Martinez is a guy who can hit home runs and hit for average. Yes, he is.
It’s hard to nitpick that he was the best hitter in baseball. If you think Mookie Betts, Mike Trout, or Christian Yelich challenge that, I’ll give you that. Martinez hit .330, 16 points below batting champion Betts, with 43 homers and 130 RBI and a 1.031 OPS. Maybe the home run pace slowed down, but that’s because pitchers finally realized that they had to be really careful when pitching to him. Martinez adjusted to that. The hitting savant worked endlessly in the batting cages before games, studying video of his batting practices and making another hitting savant, Manny Ramirez, look like a slacker, which Manny certainly wasn’t. Maybe Manny was the best righthanded hitter the Sox ever had along with Jimmie Foxx, but we’ll know more about that before Martinez’ Red Sox tenure is over. For now, Martinez is living up to his billing. He had a very good regular season and is now backing it up with a stellar postseason. He’s hitting .429 in this series even after a 1-for-4 night. But it’s not the numbers of the hits it’s the quality of the hits. Big moments are made for big hitters, and Martinez is one of the big hitters.
The Sox have been so good with two outs in the postseason, but Martinez said the approach shouldn’t change.
“I think the approach is kind of the same,” he said. “Obviously, unless there’s a guy on third base and you have one out vs. two outs, it’s different. You’re just trying to put the barrel on the ball.”
And so Martinez likely will play the outfield in LA depending on the condition of his ankle. Cora has wanted to stick with his defensive outfield of Andrew Benintendi, Jackie Bradley Jr., and Betts, but with no DH Martinez has to play the field — which he normally enjoys doing. He said the ankle wouldn’t be an issue and got through Game 2 even with soreness.
By Friday night, things should be better for baseball’s top hitter.
Nick Cafardo can be reached at email@example.com.