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Martin proving he fits perfectly in stacked lineup

Often overshadowed by Blue Jays' other sluggers, catcher rises to occasion

TORONTO -- The Blue Jays have plenty of guys who can swing the bat, but Russell Martin's timely three-run homer in Wednesday night's 4-0 win over the Yankees demonstrated just how deep of a lineup Toronto boasts.

With two on and two outs, Martin came to the plate in the bottom of the seventh inning of a 1-0 game and crushed a four-seam fastball from New York reliever Andrew Bailey over the wall in left to bring a sold-out Rogers Centre crowd to its feet. The homer gave the Blue Jays some breathing room as they took the rubber match and jumped to 3 1/2 games ahead of the Yankees for the American League East lead, trimming their magic number to win the division to eight in the process. Kansas City's 4-3, 10-inning win over Seattle kept the Blue Jays 1 1/2 games behind the Royals in their bid for the AL's top record.

The home run was a big moment for Martin, the only everyday Canadian-born player on the Blue Jays this season.

"The park is sold out, the crowd is electric -- it makes those moments stand out even more," said Martin, whose homer was No. 21 this season, matching a career high. "If the crowd wasn't as loud, it wouldn't feel the same. Definitely a good feeling for me. I know the boys enjoyed it."

The 32-year-old Martin performed the less celebrated but nonetheless valuable service of drawing a two-out walk an inning earlier to drive Yankees starter Ivan Nova from the game. Until that point, Nova had limited the Blue Jays to four hits and no runs. Martin would score later that inning on a Kevin Pillar single to break a scoreless tie.

"Russell's a free swinger, but he's got a pretty good eye at the plate," Blue Jays manager John Gibbons said. "He can draw some key walks. That's never been a problem with him. Guys that do that are very, very valuable to you."

Martin has proven to be an invaluable addition to the Blue Jays. A free-agent acquisition, Martin signed a five-year, $82 million deal with Toronto last November and has swung a powerful bat while shouldering a heavy workload behind the plate. On top of his regular catching duties, Martin took on the responsibility of catching knuckleballer R.A. Dickey for all but one month of the season, giving the team some roster flexibility so it didn't have to carry a third catcher.

"He's not going unnoticed, but he's probably not getting [the recognition] he deserves," Gibbons said. "He's having a tremendous year. That's why they got him."

Jamie Ross is an associate reporter for
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