Beltre, Martinez find their groove
Meanwhile, Pedroia struggles, but probably not for much longer
BOSTON -- This is the tale of three Red Sox hitters who all have been explosive at the plate at different times this season.
Dustin Pedroia, Victor Martinez and Adrian Beltre have all seen their ups and downs in 2010, but it just so happens the latter two are enjoying an impressive streak at the moment while the other is battling through his yearly skid.
What Martinez and Beltre were able to accomplish at the plate Tuesday night helped the Red Sox to a come-from-behind 9-4 victory over the Oakland A's at Fenway Park. Martinez went 5-for-5, including 4 doubles, 1 single, 2 runs and 2 RBI. Beltre went 3-for-5 with a pair of singles and a three-run homer. Pedroia went 1-for-5 with a double.
Despite the numbers, it was an important night for all three.
After the victory, Red Sox manager Terry Francona said he used to hate when Martinez was this locked in offensively. Of course, Martinez used to play for the Cleveland Indians before coming to the Red Sox via trade last July.
Francona said he's not worried about Pedroia's performance, and the manager is thrilled with the output from Beltre.
Behind curtain No. 1: According to the ESPN stats department, Martinez becomes the sixth player since 1920 to go 5-for-5 with four doubles, joining Tampa's Tomas Perez (2006), Boston's Rick Miller (1981), Cleveland's Lou Boudreau (1946), Cleveland's Vic Wertz (1956) and Philadelphia's Denny Sothern (1930).
Martinez also became the first major league catcher with four doubles in a game since the Indians' Sandy Alomar accomplished the same feat on June 6, 1997 at Fenway.
What makes Martinez's streak of late impressive is the fact he suffered a contusion on his big toe in Tampa a week ago and it's clear he is still bothered by it when he runs. It hasn't had a negative effect on his hitting and he proved it Tuesday night. It's certainly a quick turnaround from the first month of the season when the switch-hitting catcher hit a lowly .238. He hit .276 in May and began this month the best way possible. The person with the best knowledge of all three hitters is Red Sox hitting coach Dave Magadan. He spends countless hours in the cage working with each player, and he said after Tuesday's win that he's seeing a return to form with Martinez.
Earlier in the season when Martinez was scuffling a bit, especially from the left side of the plate, Magadan noticed his stride was about 6 to 8 inches longer than normal. Martinez has made the necessary adjustments and it's showing. From the right side of the plate, Magadan feels Martinez has been pretty consistent. "To see him doing it from both sides is pretty special," Magadan said.
Along with Pedroia, Magadan says Martinez is one of the hardest-working players he's worked with from an offensive standpoint. "You can see with every at-bat he's gaining confidence, and when you feel the way he does right now at the plate, you want to hit every inning and he's looking forward to those opportunities to do something good at the plate."
Behind curtain No. 2: Even though it was only one hit, it was probably the knock Pedroia needed.
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He made some adjustments at the plate Tuesday night, spreading his legs more in his stance, which has cut down on the lengthy stride he has developed during his recent skid.
"When his stride is big like that he gets underneath a lot of balls. His game is hitting line drives and getting on top of balls that he hits the other way."
In his first at-bat of the game, Pedroia lined out to first. He got a little anxious in his second at-bat and popped out to second with the bases loaded in the second inning, and when he returned to the dugout he did damage to some equipment in his wake. He grounded out to short in the fifth and hit into a 4-6-3 double play in the sixth.
The frustration was showing.
After that fourth at-bat, Magadan pulled Pedroia aside in the dugout and told him not to focus on the two poor at-bats he had, but concentrate on the two good ones. Fortunately for Pedroia, he stepped to the plate a fifth time in the eighth inning and took his hitting coach's advice when he drove an offering off Oakland reliever Michael Wuertz to right-center field and the ball bounced into the Red Sox bullpen for a ground-rule double.
"Sure enough, he got up and took a great swing at that ball and drove it to right-center," Magadan said. "When he's doing that, he's a special hitter. He's gone through a period right now where he's gotten away from what makes him a really good hitter. With the amount of hard work he does, it's just a matter of time before he gets back to where he needs to be." That hit snapped an 0-for-17 streak.
"He leaves everything out there," said Francona. "If [Oakland center fielder Rajai] Davis catches that ball, we would have to get out of the way because he's going to be down there killing somebody or himself. I don't worry about his performance. I worry he tries too hard. He always plays the game."
It's a long season and every player will go through a slump, but everyone knows, especially Pedroia, that he'll eventually get himself out of it. There's plenty of baseball remaining. "It doesn't make it any easier every year," Magadan said. "It's like your wife wrecks a car every year, it happens every year, but it doesn't make it any easier. Something tragic can happen every year, but it doesn't make it any easier to accept. Pedroia has won a Rookie of the Year, A.L. MVP, Gold Glove, Silver Slugger and has been a two-time All-Star, but he's not into personal achievements. What he cares about more is his World Series title. What he wants even more is a second, and those aren't built on personal accolades.
"He's been frustrated because he knows he's a big part of this team and he takes it personal," said Magadan. "I think it hurts him more, it affects him more, in a way that he feels he's letting the team down than he does about his own personal goals. That's what makes him such a special player and makes everybody in the clubhouse better."
Pedroia wants instant results.
Behind curtain No. 3: Beltre is getting the results. The Sox's third baseman went 3-for-5 with three RBIs and added his sixth homer of the season on Tuesday. He's collected eight multi-hit games since May 19 and is batting .451 with four homers and 16 RBIs during this stretch. When the Red Sox signed him to a one-year deal during the offseason, most thought it was strictly for his defense. To some extent that was the reason, but he's added an offensive element that has been welcomed, too.
"He's been as impressive as anybody I have ever seen, especially with two strikes," said Magadan. "He's been absolutely incredible. He uses the whole field. He' got unbelievable plate coverage, and off-the-plate coverage right now with two strikes."
Beltre is using that two-strike approach more and he's doing some serious damage with it. It looks like he's violent in the box (similar to Pedroia) but from the point where he loads up his swing until he makes contact, Beltre is direct to the ball.
Joe McDonald covers the Bruins and Red Sox for ESPNBoston.com.