To the extent that it’s possible for an eight-game hit streak to be subdued, that’s what J.D. Martinez had entering Saturday afternoon’s game at Kauffman Stadium. With a 9-for-33 (.273) clip in that span, Martinez actually cost himself a few batting average points.
Nothing was subdued about the way he stretched his hit streak to nine, though. On a fifth-inning sinker that didn’t live up to its name, Martinez drilled a two-run homer to help the Red Sox earn a 7-1 series-evening win over the Royals. That marked the slugger’s 100th homer with Boston, making him just the eighth player to accrue 100-plus home runs and an OPS of .900 or better with the franchise.
“This is what we envisioned,” manager Alex Cora said, thinking back to that February day in 2018 when Martinez’s deal became official.
“I think, obviously, it worked out for both of us. For J.D., financially, and finding a home and becoming the player he is in Boston. And obviously for our organization. This guy is not only a great hitter; he helps everybody out, he’s a great teammate, he’s relentless with his craft.”
The five-year, $109.95 million contract Martinez inked with Boston four offseasons ago began paying dividends immediately: In his first year, he led the Majors in RBIs (130) and total bases (358), becoming the first player ever to receive an American League Silver Slugger Award for two positions in one season (outfield and designated hitter). Oh, and he had an .880 OPS or better in all three rounds of the team's World Series title run.
Martinez was an All-Star again in 2019 before taking a huge step back in the pandemic-shortened 2020 season, posting a .213/.291/.389 slash line in 54 games.
“Like I keep saying, I don’t call it ‘last year,’” Martinez said. “I call it the last two months of last year.”
The good news for the Red Sox, though, is that those two months of struggles likely contributed to his decision to opt in for the final two years of the deal. Now, he’s back to the Martinez of old, ranking in the AL’s top 15 in home runs (14), RBIs (44) and OPS (.914).
His homer on Saturday capped a four-run frame for the Red Sox, putting them ahead for good and forcing Sunday's rubber match in this set behind five solid innings from starter Martín Pérez. No player needed a bounce-back as badly as Pérez, who’d allowed 11 earned runs over 3 1/3 innings in his previous two starts (29.70 ERA). This time, he worked five innings of one-run ball, allowing three hits and a pair of walks.
The changeup was particularly effective for Pérez, who threw that pitch a game-high 26 times and induced an 81 mph average exit velocity on eight balls in play. The left-hander did have to work around baserunners in all but one inning, though a pair of tag outs at home were key in preventing further damage.
In the second inning, Pérez blew a fastball past Michael A. Taylor for the third out, but he didn’t leave the mound right away. He’d miscounted the number of outs, which led to a funny moment with Cora.
“I was like, jokingly and sarcastically, ‘You’re not used to getting past the second inning,’” Cora recalled telling Pérez. “But that’s the relationship we have. This guy, he’s very important to us.”
In a different way, Martinez is very important to the Red Sox, too. And with the way he’s swinging, there figures to be plenty more production -- home runs, namely -- coming from his bat.
“I hope I can hit 100 more for them going forward,” Martinez said.