Martin, looking for fresh start, in middle of big win
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YORK -- The game's last pitch dipped, and Russell Martin blocked it with his chest, pounced to his right and barehanded the ball in one motion, whipping a strike to second base to complete a pretty perfect night for the Yankees' catcher.
Martin bellowed in joy several times as he raced to the mound, slapping hands with closer Rafael Soriano and pumping his fist convincingly. After a frustrating first half, Martin is tempted to believe that this will be the fresh beginning he so badly craves.
"I feel a lot better now than I did before the game," Martin said. "It's a good way to start the second half; a 'W' and I'm starting to feel a little bit better about myself. It's never a bad thing."
Martin excelled on both sides of the ball in the Yankees' 6-5 victory over the Angels at Yankee Stadium, connecting for the game-winning hit off Kevin Jepsen in the eighth inning and throwing out three Halos baserunners, including nabbing Howie Kendrick for the 27th out.
"It was a fun way to end the game," Martin said. "I'd never done that before."
The relieved smile he flashed at his locker seemed a far cry from where we last saw Martin, shredding a defenseless towel on the third-base dugout bench last Saturday at Fenway Park.
Martin insisted that he wasn't upset at that day's decision to use Alex Rodriguez as a pinch-hitter in his place, but rather by his entire season. No one would blame him, and as the first half wound down, Girardi called his starting catcher aside.
"We talked about it," Girardi said. "We said, 'The second half, it starts all over.' Forget about it. As tough a time as you had offensively, we still won a lot of games. Imagine if you do your job defensively and you hit as well. We're going to be that much better."
Martin wanted to keep details of his talk with Girardi in-house, but acknowledged, "I think he felt it was necessary, and it kind of fired me up a little bit, so it worked."
Mark Teixeira wondered if the All-Star break might have restored some of Martin's energy. He was impressed by Martin's ability to get through to Jepsen's 97-mph cutter in the eighth, punching it into right field and sending the go-ahead run home.
"Russell's been battling," Teixeira said. "Physically, he's been beat up really bad. Probably more than anybody, he needed those four days off. He looked great tonight."
Girardi also noticed a little pep in his catcher's step, saying he looked "giddy." Martin said he spent his break at home in Montreal, flushing baseball from his thought process. He needed the rest physically, sure, but he sought a mental break just as much.
"You just get away from the game and it helps you relax," Martin said. "Instead of just stressing about numbers and stuff, you forget it. Hang out with the family, have some good dinners -- and that's just what I did."
But he brought something back from Boston -- and it wasn't the destroyed towel. Martin was benched for last Sunday's game and said he spent more than an hour with hitting coach Kevin Long, tweaking his swing to be simpler and shorter to the ball. It may have helped on Friday.
"If I have a long swing, I probably roll over that pitch," Martin said. "If you stay compact, you have a little bit of room to work with."
The single accounted for Martin's first RBI since June 18 against the Braves, a drought that was punctuated by an 0-for-30 slump that he'd rather not be reminded of.
"It feels like you're 0-for-half-the-season when you're in that," Martin said.
Those bright lights where batting averages are printed on the scoreboard still don't seem to be worth looking at -- Martin is at .181 after Friday's action -- and he may not be exiting the Interstate for some time.
No matter. The only numbers Martin can be concerned with right now are what has happened so far in the second half, where his Yankees are undefeated and he's hitting .333. It sure beats the alternative.
"I don't really care about the average at this point, just winning games," Martin said. "If I can keep sprinkling in a couple big hits like this, here and there, that'll feel good."