ST. LOUIS -- As members of Oscar Taveras' family took the field for a ceremony to honor the late Cardinals outfielder before Sunday's 3-1 win over the Dodgers, the pitcher who dons Taveras' No. 18 as a permanent tribute to his best friend started to throw his warmup pitches in the bullpen.
Admittedly overcome by emotion as the Cardinals reflected on the one-year anniversary of Taveras' debut, Martinez turned away while a video tribute played above him.
"In that moment in the bullpen, I had seen too much," Martinez said, speaking via a translator. "For a second, I thought, 'Oh man, I don't know if I can throw today because I'm so sad.'"
"You saw that it was hard for him to see that," added catcher Yadier Molina, who was with Martinez in the 'pen.
Martinez wiped away tears as the video ended, but then he used those emotions as a springboard to one of the best starts of the right-hander's young career.
Between the dugout and the bullpen, Martinez found his composure, telling himself that he had an opportunity to win for something greater than just his team.
"I wanted to give that gift for them," Martinez said, speaking of Taveras' parents, who had never seen their son play at Busch Stadium. Martinez had spent the previous evening visiting with them in his home.
Martinez responded to the challenge better than anyone anticipated, throwing seven shutout innings in a series-clinching win. Manager Mike Matheny, who had earlier called the timing of having Martinez pitch on Oscar Taveras Day both a "concern" and a "challenge," acknowledged afterward that he has perhaps never seen Martinez pitch better.
"I think today would be one of those benchmark days that you mark and say, 'This is how I go about it,'" Matheny said. "He was very at task today, and it was obvious that he had a very clear plan about how he wanted to go about it. And then he executed."
Harnessing his emotions hasn't always been a strong suit for Martinez. The Cardinals have seen him unnecessarily try to overpower an opponent when an inning starts to unravel or get too excitable when something doesn't go right behind him. On Sunday, Martinez found the right balance.
He limited the Dodgers to one hit over seven innings. He walked three, including two in a row with one out in the sixth, only to respond with consecutive strikeouts of Adrian Gonzalez (on a changeup) and Howie Kendrick (on a curveball).
"He got into the big situation and realized he needed to make a better pitch, not necessarily a harder pitch," Matheny said. "That is what is going to get him out of those big spots."
Though Martinez's pitch count sat at 101 at the end of the frame, Matheny sent him out in the seventh. Martinez retired the side on seven pitches, setting a career high for pitches thrown (108) while tying his career best in innings and strikeouts (eight).
With a third straight scoreless outing, Martinez ran his string of consecutive scoreless innings to 20 1/3, the longest by a National League pitcher this season.
"You could tell he wanted to win tonight," Molina said. "Tonight was special for him and everybody here. He's still young, but to control that emotion is a big step."