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Martin provides calming presence in tense moments

Pirates catcher drives in two key runs in NLDS Game 3 win over Cardinals

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PITTSBURGH -- Russell Martin helped get the Pirates' postseason run off to a rousing start when he smacked two homers in a 6-2 victory over the Reds in the National League Wild Card Game on Tuesday. And while his offensive contributions in Sunday's 5-3 triumph over the Cardinals in Game 3 of the NL Division Series were more subtle than sending baseballs flying over the fence, they were critical nonetheless.

In the bottom of the sixth inning with the score tied at 2, the Cards intentionally walked Pedro Alvarez with runners on second and third and one out. At that point, St. Louis manager Mike Matheny pulled starting pitcher Joe Kelly and brought in Seth Maness to face Martin with the bases loaded. The strategy backfired when the Bucs' catcher drove the first offering he saw from Maness to center field for a sacrifice fly that scored Andrew McCutchen and gave Pittsburgh the lead.

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"I knew he [Maness] had a good sinker, and I was looking for something a little bit up," Martin said. "He threw me a sinker that didn't have much of a run to it, and I was able to get underneath it and drive him in."

Martin also provided an insurance run with an RBI single off Kevin Siegrist -- who he said was throwing "absolute cheddar" -- during the Pirates' two-run eighth inning that gave them a 5-3 lead heading into the final frame. That hit gave him a team-high six RBIs in four playoff games, one more than Alvarez and Marlon Byrd.  

"He's better than a .220 hitter, better than a .230 hitter," manager Clint Hurdle said, referring to the fact that Martin hit .226 in 127 games during the regular season this year. "He has offense to offer the team multiple ways. You're seeing it now -- the big swings the other night [against Cincinnati] and then tonight with situational hitting, performing and getting some things done."

Martin, who has previous postseason experience with the Dodgers and Yankees, signed with Pittsburgh as a free agent before this season. He's brought value to the team with his bat (15 homers and 55 RBIs), his throwing arm (a Major League-high 29 runners caught stealing), his handling of the pitching staff and by blocking tons of balls in the dirt.

On Sunday, Martin helped Francisco Liriano through six innings in which he allowed only three hits and two runs, despite the fact that the big lefty didn't have his best stuff.

"He gives every man that takes the ball and gets on that mound the feeling that they're the best out there. Not just the best right now, the best," Hurdle said. "He speaks very clearly to them. And they know that they can throw anything they want with conviction and it's going to get stopped."

The two runs St. Louis scored off Liriano almost didn't happen thanks to Martin. The Cardinals had runners on first and second in the fifth when Matt Carpenter struck out looking and Martin came extremely close to throwing Jon Jay out at third base on the front end of a double steal that would have ended the inning.

"It was a called third strike on a 3-2 count, and I just got the ball and got rid of it as quick as I could," Martin said. "The throw was a little bit off line. From my view, it was pretty close. I couldn't really tell. So it was a bang-bang play."

With the help of Martin's fine work, Pittsburgh now has a chance to close out the best-of-five NLDS with a victory over St. Louis on Monday afternoon at 3 p.m. ET on TBS. On Sunday, the Bucs saw the Cards tie the game twice, but they counterpunched and regained the lead both times.

"We've been down a few times this year, and we've been able to battle back and win some games," Martin said. "And when you do that, you start gaining confidence. Right now, we're playing good baseball, pretty much like we have all year long. The confidence level is high."

Jim Lachimia is a contributor to

Pittsburgh Pirates, Russell Martin