J.D.: 'Release by Astros made me who I am'
Martinez must conquer original organization to get chance at WS title
HOUSTON -- Fittingly, the journey that J.D. Martinez is on as he tries to win a World Series for the first time in his career will take him to Minute Maid Park this week.
Martinez and the Red Sox come to town tied, 1-1, in this American League Championship Series. Games 3 through 5 are in Houston from today through Thursday.
It is back to the old stomping grounds for the masher in the middle of the Boston batting order.
Martinez, who debuted with Houston in 2011, had hoped to play a big role for a then rebuilding Astros franchise, one that was confident it would eventually climb to the top of baseball's mountain.
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But Martinez had those hopes taken away coldly on March 22, 2014, when he was released by the club that had drafted and developed him due to a logjam in the outfield.
The Astros did turn into a powerhouse, winning the World Series last year.
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Martinez turned into a powerful hitter -- one of the finest and most dangerous in the game. First, he went to Detroit and made a name for himself. Then Martinez became a trade acquisition for the ages with the D-backs last summer. And with the spotlight of Boston on him after signing as a free agent back in February, Martinez has swiftly turned into one of the most impactful acquisitions in Red Sox history.
So in a way, everything worked out for both sides.
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Although hindsight is always 20/20, the decision for the Astros to let Martinez go when they did is defensible when you look at the pedestrian numbers he had there. In 975 plate appearances from 2011-13, Martinez slashed .251/.300/.387 with 24 homers and 126 RBIs.
Martinez has made 2,792 regular-season plate appearances since leaving the Astros, slashing .307/.371/.586 with 171 homers and 480 RBIs. The timing was unfortunate for Houston, because Martinez had just started to discover the art of launch angle during the winter before he was released. But his launch party would start in Detroit, before continuing to other destinations.
All of that brings us to this week and Martinez's tantalizing opportunity to stick it to the Astros and stop their path short of a second straight World Series title. To do that, he will have to break out of his early ALCS funk; the right-handed hitter is 0-for-7 with a walk and three strikeouts.
Before Game 2, Astros manager AJ Hinch had called Mookie Betts a ticking time bomb. And there Betts was, breaking out of his postseason rut with a two-double performance later that night. Now it could be Martinez's turn to do the same.
Part of the reason Martinez has the ability to go off and carry the lineup like he has done several times this season is due to the fire the Astros built within him by releasing him at the age of 26.
"I think it made me who I am," Martinez told MLB.com earlier this season. "I've always been hungry, but when people ask what drives you -- 'How do you stay so driven throughout this whole thing?' -- you just don't stop. It's every single day. The people that know me and the people that love me and are in my life see it.
"My brother-in-law came up to me and was like, 'Dude, I admire your life and what you do and everything you do. It's amazing. I wouldn't want it for me. Because the amount of time you spend in this game, the amount of time away from your family, that's stuff you'll never get back.'
"But it's my passion, it's my love, it's what I love to do. To me, that took my [intensity] to another level where when you have something taken away. … It's like the famous expression, you don't realize you love something until it's gone."'
Now it is the baseball that is so often gone when Martinez steps to the plate.
This season, Martinez hit .330 with 43 homers and an MLB-leading 130 RBIs. He bashed a three-run homer to help sink the Yankees in Game 1 of the AL Division Series.
It is likely that Martinez will have something to say about the ALCS before it is over.
But if he does "do damage," as the slogan for this Red Sox postseason drive goes, revenge against his former team won't be what drives him. In a way, Martinez is thankful to the Astros.
"I mean, I learned a lot from Houston. And you know what? It made me who I am and there's really no animosity there," Martinez said. "In a sense, they did me a favor by allowing me to leave and going to play on another team. And if it wasn't for that, I probably wouldn't be here right now. Who knows where I would have been?"