DETROIT -- The ball looked like another Victor Martinez grounder into the shift at first glance. Under most circumstances, it might have been. But as second baseman Whit Merrifield waited on it, and shortstop Raul Mondesi tried charging over to fill the gap, Martinez found another gear down the line,
DETROIT -- The ball looked like another Victor Martinez grounder into the shift at first glance. Under most circumstances, it might have been. But as second baseman Whit Merrifield waited on it, and shortstop Raul Mondesi tried charging over to fill the gap, Martinez found another gear down the line, beating the play at first.
"I smelled it," he said of his infield single.
It was his 2,153rd and final Major League hit. For that matter, it was his final play on a big league ball field. As farewells go, it couldn't have been scripted much better, complete with a twinge of irony.
"I thought it was priceless," reliever Alex Wilson said. "I mean, of all the hits he's ever gotten, the last one you would expect is an infield single on the last day of his career."
To Nicholas Castellanos, whose locker has been next to Martinez's the last few years, it was fitting.
"I said, 'That's your whole career summed up,'" Castellanos said. "He said, 'What do you mean?' I said, 'Did you work hard for that hit?' And he said, 'Yeah.' 'Yeah, that's your career, man. That hit's perfect.'"
Martinez went out on his own terms, both in Saturday's 5-4 Tigers win, and in his career. Despite a week remaining in the season, he wanted Saturday to be his last game, because he wanted to end his career in front of the home fans.
He also wanted to play in the field in his 1,973rd and final game, not just serve as the designated hitter. He would've loved to catch, but those days ended years ago. He started Saturday at first base for the first time since June 1, 2016.
"Hey, it's his day," manager Ron Gardenhire said. "If he wants to play first base, he's got it."
He celebrated in front of the home fans, but also his teammates, who played a heavy role in pregame ceremonies honoring his career. With catcher James McCann at the microphone, they brought him onto the field and presented him with gifts. The collage of baseball cards from all 16 of his Major League seasons was a no-brainer. The cowboy boots and Tigers-themed saddle were a nod to the post-playing career he has been planning for a few years, the cattle ranch he owns in central Florida.
"We thought that would be a good fit," said Wilson, who used some contacts in Texas to put them together.
The team also had fun with the occasion, presenting Martinez with a Tiger-themed recliner. He also received a watch honoring his career.
Martinez, who was in tears when the Indians honored him in a pregame ceremony last week for his early years spent with Cleveland, was emotional from the outset of the ceremony as he hugged his young daughter. He also hugged every Tigers player as they greeted him in front of the dugout -- including Jose Cabrera, who has been out since mid-June following season-ending biceps surgery, but made the trip from South Florida.
Martinez gathered himself long enough to make a brief thank you to fans for their support during his eight years in Detroit.
"From the bottom of my heart, I want to say thank you for being behind us all these years, supporting my teammates, supporting myself," he said. "Thank you very much."
As Ronny Rodriguez dashed out of the dugout to pinch-run, just as Gardenhire had planned if and when Martinez got a base hit Saturday, the crowd at Comerica Park rose for a standing ovation.
So did the Tigers' dugout. So did the Royals players around the infield. So did fellow Venezuelans Salvador Perez and Alcides Escobar, who ran out and hugged him as he made his way around home plate toward the dugout steps.
"He called me on my first day here and told me to come out and give him a hug [tonight]," Perez said. "He taught me so much inside and outside of baseball; how to play and how to take care of your family. I will try to be like him and play until I'm 39."
Martinez had to work through a lot to get to that point, from multiple knee surgeries to two heart scares last year amid a struggling season. Between the heart and the bat, his chances at sticking through this season looked long a year ago.
He made it, and Saturday was his chance to go out on his terms.
"It's definitely a day I will always remember," Martinez said. "I don't have enough words to thank everybody here in Detroit, none more than the fans. They made me not only a better player, but they made me a better person. I thank them for that."
He gave everything he had on the field, he said. He had to give everything in his aging legs for that last hit. When the Tigers went back into the clubhouse after the win, they gave Martinez the same celebration for his last hit that they give rookies for their first.
"We doused him, just like we douse somebody for their first hit, first home run," Castellanos said. "We gave him a retirement shower."
Jason Beck has covered the Tigers for MLB.com since 2002. Read Beck's Blog, follow him on Twitter @beckjason and Facebook.