The New York evening was growing older, fans getting restless and the Yankees looking for someone to step up and lift them one step closer to the postseason. Leave it to their dedicated, hard-working catcher Russell Martin to deliver the big blow in last night's enormous 10-inning victory over Oakland.
Yes, the much-maligned catcher has become a critical part of the Yankees' success late this season and his contributions have helped bolster the lineup just enough to get the Bombers on a nice win streak. Martin has a nearly .900 OPS in the month of September (.896 to be exact) and has cranked out some enormous home runs.
From a momentum-shifting, three-run shot in Baltimore two weeks ago to help lead the Yankees to victory, to a game-changing, opposite-field three-run shot last Sunday against Tampa, to last night's walk-off bomb deep into the left-centerfield seats at Yankee Stadium, Martin has been one of the best Yankee hitters in September.
It's been a curious season for Martin, considering he's hit under .200 for most of the year. Yet the veteran from Canada is now within one homer of his career-high in home runs and all Yankee fans may remember about his 2012 season is how he's come to the rescue of the Bombers when it's mattered most.
Particularly if he can deliver next month when the games are even bigger.
Martin is known as one of the best game-managers in baseball as a catcher, and the defensive metrics reflect his ability to get the job done behind the plate. After all, it's been Martin's catching savvy and rangy athleticism behind the plate in blocking balls and throwing out base-stealers that the Yankees have always coveted most about his skill set.
During Martin's tremendous struggles earlier this summer, Yankees manager Joe Girardi spoke about Martin's ability to save runs and his optimism that Martin was a far better hitter than what he had shown.
"The big thing is saving runs. That's the bottom line to me. I don't get too caught up in offense, but I think you'll see a different guy in the second half."
Martin has also proven himself to be a much, much better hitter against left-handed pitching than right-handers. Girardi has shifted Martin up to the fifth spot in the lineup in several big games this month against the multitude of southpaws that opposing teams have tried throwing at the Yankees to keep them in check.
The Yankees have struggled mightily against lefties this season, and Martin's demonstrated ability against them has helped make up some of the difference. Whether Martin will be back in pinstripes next season is anybody's guess, but to rule out the possibility would be foolish.
Martin will turn 30 just before the start of spring training for the 2013 season. He's in the Top 10 in the majors in home runs among catchers and his excellent clubhouse presence cannot be understated. Martin fits in very well with this team and the Bombers will likely be reluctant to let him go.
Following Martin's second walk-off home run of the season last night, Girardi again complimented his catcher for his resolve and ability to come through with the big hit.
"Russell has been a clutch player for a good part of his career. He's been in big moments, he's been in playoff spots. He's a good player, has power, and we knew we got off to a slow start in the first half but his second half has been really good and productive for us."
Many Yankees fans have sure pined for the days that Jorge Posada was behind the plate these last two seasons. You just don't lose a player of Posada's borderline-Hall of Fame offensive production and not miss a beat.
But Yankee fans could sure do worse than Russell Martin—a player with the knack for a clutch hit and the kind of grit and determination that makes you feel he'd run through a wall in order to get a win.
That's the kind of player the Yankees would take on their team any day of the week.