Victor Martinez gives Boston his all
Case in point: After the Sox suffered a 3-2 loss to the Tampa Bay Rays on a walk-off homer in the 10th inning Saturday night at Tropicana Field, Martinez was clearly disgusted with the Sox's missed opportunity. He went 4-for-5 with a home run and two runs scored in the contest, but it didn't matter to him because Boston lost and squandered a golden opportunity. The Red Sox sit 7 games behind the Yankees and Rays and their postseason chances look dim.
Martinez, who will become a free agent at the end of the season, was 8-for-13 with three homers and four runs scored in the three-game set against the Rays. Defensively, he blocked balls in the dirt time and again, and was on the winning end of two collisions at home plate.
Sitting in the opposing dugout this past weekend was Rays catcher Kelly Shoppach. He and Martinez were teammates with the Cleveland Indians for parts of four seasons from 2006 to 2009. Shoppach was drafted by the Red Sox in 2001 and reached the big leagues with Boston in 2005. He was traded to Cleveland as part of the Coco Crisp deal prior to the 2006 season.
Shoppach and Martinez formed a strong bond that is still evident today.
"He's a special player," Shoppach said. "He's a great teammate and no one really knows how much he cares about the game. And he can't stand to lose."
Shoppach was asked what he learned from Martinez while the two were teammates. His response was not surprising.
"That I can't do what he can," Shoppach answered about the switch-hitting Martinez. "Not too many players can do what he does, especially from both sides of the plate."
The former teammates caught up again over the weekend and talked baseball. They talked about the AL East. They talked about Friday night's game when Jon Lester pitched a gem, and Martinez belted a pair of solo home runs to lead the Red Sox to a 3-1 victory.
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Martinez has had the constant company of his 6-year-old son, Victor Jose, this season. It seems father and son are always playing baseball together, whether it's catch in the clubhouse or taking BP in the outfield grass.
Once the game begins, it's all business for the elder Martinez. But he still enjoys the game as if he were a kid.
"He's so excited to play every day," said Shoppach. "I don't know how he does it. He wants to catch every night. We played a 15-inning game in Cleveland one night and then had a day game. I thought I was playing because he caught the entire game the night before, but he told [manager Eric Wedge] that he was playing. That's how bad he wants to win."
Since returning from the disabled list after suffering a fractured left thumb on July 26, Martinez has started all 32 of Boston's games (27 at catcher and five at first base). He is hitting .298 with 11 runs scored, 7 doubles, 4 homers and 16 RBIs.
"He's caught almost every day since he's been back," said manager Terry Francona. "I think that's a pretty phenomenal feat. I don't know if people realize how hard that is when you've sat for a while to come back and catch every day. Now it looks like after he's been out there for a while. His body gets beat up, but then you kind of get used to it. He's starting to feel good at the plate."
Martinez's presence in the clubhouse has been a major plus since the Red Sox acquired him at the trade deadline in July 2009.
"I think he did that for Cleveland too," added Francona. "That's part of what he does. And he likes to play. He doesn't ever want to have a day off."
When Martinez replaced Jason Varitek as the everyday catcher in the latter part of the 2009 season, there was some thought the pitching staff's game preparation would suffer, given Varitek's renowned work ethic. That hasn't been the case.
Martinez constantly talks about baseball. He's well-prepared and studies each game.
"He's been great," said Red Sox starter John Lackey. "He works hard. We always talk about what we want to do before games. He's been able to execute a game plan. He cares a lot. He's obviously a great hitter. Usually when you see catchers who are great hitters, they're not into the defensive side. He definitely cares about the pitchers and really works hard to help us out."
After Saturday's tough loss, Francona mentioned that he thought Martinez caught the game of his life. That's a pretty big statement about a nine-year veteran and four-time All-Star. But Francona was recognizing that Martinez is well aware of what's at stake with Boston's regular season winding down.
"From here on, every win is important," Martinez said. "There are a lot of games left and we're still in there with a lot of teams. We're battling and we'll see what happens."
It may be too soon for Red Sox general manager Theo Epstein to turn his full attention to the offseason, but it's a sure bet he will attempt to lock up Martinez for the long term.
"If I'm a GM, I would love to have a guy like Victor on my team," Shoppach said.
Joe McDonald covers the Red Sox and Bruins for ESPNBoston.com.
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